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Saul Leiter's prophetic influence on social media


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Saul Leiter's artwork will not strike you as unique; you will feel a sense of familiarity when you see it, as if you saw similar photographs on Flikr or Pinterest by artists of today. But once you realise that Saul was producing his art 60 years ago and artists are gaining prominence from his concept today, it will leave you in awe.

An artist whose name and work was almost forgotten, after his emergence was short lived following 40 years of being virtually unknown to the art world, is today seen through similar art from thousands of people around the world.

Saul Leiter's unique concept of capturing the harmony of humanity in urban Manhattan is translated and mirrored by modern photographers in New York, London and Paris, sharing ‘their' work on Instagram and similar photo sharing platforms.

None of Leiter's contemporaries, other than Helen Levitt, massed a comparable collection of work in colour. From a paintbrush to a film camera, Saul proved that colour wasn't a cheap tool used just for advertising but rather an instrument capable of producing poetic photography.

Stepping into an exhibition of Saul Leiter is a unique experience. During my visit to 'The Photographers' Gallery', I was unusually greeted by the photographs themselves. Unlike most art hung in ostentatious galleries with velvet walls and gold frames, like in the ‘V&A Museum' or ‘The National Gallery', ‘The Photographers' Gallery' hosts Saul Leiter's work on a bland white wall in dull black and white frames, where the colours of his photographs dance on its canvas and invite you in from across the room.

Somehow being in the shadow of artists like Helen Levitt or Philip Guston in the public light hasn't taken away Saul's shine. The exhibition was filled with people of different ages and backgrounds, with art ranging from abstract to expressionist, black and white to colour, and even of the erotic kind. It can be gathered that Saul was a people’s artist.

What was quite intriguing to see were the artist's early paintings, as he is seen and actually considered himself a photographer; but these pieces are important when looking at the exhibition from a step back. His work is placed along the walls in a chronological fashion that when followed in an anticlockwise direction, takes you on a journey through the artist's life, beginning with his earlier paintings before he switched to photography to the urban colour photos he came to pioneer later in his life.

His photographs leave the impression that Saul was a prophetic artist whom the world wasn't quite ready for, and it would come as no surprise if Saul Leiter's work exhibits in cities all around the world.

History is helpless to hide such an iconic and influential figure to the modern world of art.

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