Saul Leiter @ The Photographer’s Gallery


This is an exhibition I see blind, making no preparation beforehand. The photographer’s name suggests a Jew; in fact, Leiter was the son of a rabbi. Does the ethnicity of a photographer matter? That is a question that might be pondered awhile but I am not going to at this moment. The fact that Leiter lived his life in New York certainly does influence the nature of his imagery.


Primarily, he had aspirations to be a painter rather than a photographer and this probably helped him in his fashion work that he undertook following the Second World War. He was an early proponent of colour photography and this exhibition might be understood as challenging the autonomy of William Eggleston who is generally considered to be the first colour photographer of note.
Leiter did not come to prominence as an iconic photographer until the end of his life. It was not until the mid-1990’s when he was in his 70’s that he walked into a gallery and showed his images. This lead to exhibitions of his work. Leiter died in 2013 aged 90.
His work is less documentary and adopts a more impressionistic attitude towards the photograph. As The Photographer’s Gallery leaflet says, “Leiter embraced a fluid, impressionistic style in his work and regarded himself as both a painter and photographer. He was drawn to shapes, shadows, surfaces and textures and was best known for his abstract and figurative New York street scenes.
Although Leiter knew both Cartier-Bresson and Doisneau, he was not greatly influenced by them although the same geometry of vision is often at work. Leiter went so far as to make his own copy of Doisneau’s famous “Kiss” which was presumably posed in a busy city street.
Brett Rogers writing about this exhibition in Loose Associations, A quarterly of The Photograpeher’s Gallery, quotes Leiter as saying “When we do not know why the photographer has taken the picture nor why we are looking at it, but all of a sudden we discover something we start then seeing … I like this confusion.” It seems he was exploring the nature of perspective itself. His visual references tended to be painters like Mondrian and Rothko. Leiter said “I think mysterious things happen in familiar place. We don’t need to run to the other end of the world.

Richard Learoyd


Richard Learoyd in conversation with Martin Barnes

Learoyd’s interest in photography came out of a kind of recklessness of youth. Studied photography while in education and studied up to PhD level during which time he met some inspiring people who took an interest in his work. Studied Fine Art photography in Glasgow School of Art where he became friendly with Thomas Joshua Cooper, now a good friend.

When he started, there was a much smaller art photography community with a small audience but Arts Council better funded. Taught photography for a few years at art colleges such as in Bournemeouth. Moved to London and became a commercial photographer which he enjoyed. Wife a lawyer.
“Ideas in photograph part of the process of making” comments Martin Barnes.
Used to be more time to make photographs hence could pursue personal work. Bought a cibachrome machine and made different kinds of images more in line with what he had studied previously.
Learoyd curious about photography including cameras like the camera obscure and optics and lenses, arising out of need to make photographs. Technical knowledge to which he is not subservient took him to the “buffier” end of photography.
Learoyd good at developing skills but not letting his technical knowledge get in the way. Pursuing projects but not making huge amounts of images. Making images for pure satisfaction while experimenting with methods to create them. Different materials used.
Photography a transformative medium.
Ilford a Swiss company that has now gone out of business; materials no longer available for use.
Camera Obscura involves a lens and a room; the prints are made directly using a cibachrome machine. Expensive process but worth reinvesting in his work.
All sorts of people come to be photographed. Likes to photograph people over the years, staying with the same models when possible which usually it is not.
Not easy to set models up owing to the plane of focus as well as people looking like scared rabbits. A lot of photographs ruined in the final stage. Pays his models as well as assistants. Not much expectation of success when photographing as process is not easy though can bring great rewards.
Decisions about clothes, hairs, angle, way head is held … reference to painting helps.
Not just people also does still life; does not like to work out of boredom. Photographs dead fish owing to textures, unctiousness of skin etc
Camera as a tool of discovery; photographing for the joy of seeing the images made.
Likes to have a project in mind e.g. Bridges, soap boxes but does not find this easy. Wants to be free!
Finds visiting galleries can be enlivening but not sure why! Resonance of so many beautiful objects which soon fades to a memory.
Photography is about putting one foot in front of another. Work in fact. Some photographers great organisers! Skill to find subjects congrats with hermit like existence.
Mentions Sugimoto. What other artists interest Learoyd? Likes to look at work by other photographers but a lot leaves him feeling cold. Does not necessarily share their concerns. Artists categorised differently into different ways e.g. Cameraless photography crowd, art seeing intelligently.
Seeks to exist in the wider arena of art. Barnes accuses Learoyd of being evasive!
Likes Rothko. Depressing paintings but expressing a sense of mood through artwork. Sensation. Contemporary portraiture geared towards celebrity?
Naming big themes tends to belittle art works, over riding their subtleties.
Photographs have antique quality! Particularly old photographs in which you know the people are now dead.
Mimicking the sensation of intimacy; it is a pantomime because that intimacy is denied.
Works in black and white occasionally; likes the quality of black and white. Some of these are made outside.
Technical challenges include longer exposure times.
Cost him £2000 to photograph a tree at Lacock Abbey which owned by The National Trust!
Extended portraits … Subtle changes seen in people photographs over the years!
Camera … Learoyd makes his own but not based on replicas of View cameras rather it is a room in which one sees an image. Eyes take a little time to adjust. Intriguing experience.
To communicate from room, Learoyd shouts.
Initially projects onto an empty white board for composing; his assistant helps to move models body such as in tilting head a short distance; millimetres not feet.
Any pictures of happy people? No! Learoyd not interested in that.