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HAPPENINGText: Alma Reyes

Fashion photography was, in fact, Leiter’s first step into recognition commercially. He claimed, “I started out as a fashion photographer. One cannot say that I was successful but there was enough work to keep me busy. I collaborated with Harper’s Bazaar and other magazines. I had work and I made a living.” Through the help of Smith, Leiter’s photographs started appearing in Life magazine.

Saul Leiter, Shoot cut for the February 1963 issue of Harper’s Bazaar © Saul Leiter Foundation

Henry Wolf, art director of Esquire magazine, eyed Leiter’s works and published his first fashion shots in 1957. When Wolf became editor of Harper’s Bazaar in 1958, he gave Leiter his first assignment for the magazine’s September 1958 issue that bolstered the artist’s fame and distinct technique in lighting and shadow, positioning models off guard, and framing them in a somewhat Cubist-like composition against glass or mirrors. The exhibition showcases a room of Leiter’s fashion photo collection taken from such magazines he worked for. The models’ poses strike a scent of mystery and slightly downcast confidence, often hiding their looks under a wide-brimmed hat or shooting them glancing sideways.

Saul Leiter, Untitled, c. 1960, Gouache and watercolor on paper © Saul Leiter Foundation

In contrast with Leiter’s past exhibitions at Bunkamura, a range of the artist’s colorful gouache and watercolor paintings are introduced this time. They elicit similar layers of bright palettes and dark shades as in his photos. Leiter was quoted saying that he would have remained a painter if he had not pursued photography. He was immensely influenced by Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard, Impressionism, Les Nabis, calligraphy and Ukiyo-e prints. An untitled piece from c. 1960 paints a woman posing like a model, harmonized in hues of green, rose and yellow. Many works also portray landscapes and ocean views. He painted daily, usually abstract expressions. “Photography is about finding things,” Leiter said. “Painting is different. It’s about making something.”

Saul Leiter, Untitled, undated © Saul Leiter Foundation

Finally, in the Slide Project and Discoveries in Color rooms, we arrive even closer to Leiter’s rich sense of color. The artist began color photography from around 1947, using slide films, such as Kodachrome, Ektachrome, and Anscochrome. His first book, Early Color (2006) collated the best representations of his artistic work, many shown in these sections, together with images from the book Unseen Saul Leiter (2022), through ten panels of color slide projections, using modern digital technology. Some are staged for the first time in public. Many of Leiter’s thousands of works were left disorganized after his death. It has been the Saul Leiter Foundation’s mission , since its founding in 2014 to archive them, and promote educational programs, lectures, exhibitions, books, licensing, and other activities to propagate the medium of photography.

There are the things that are out in the open, and there are the things that are hidden. The real world has more to do with what is hidden.” – Saul Leiter

Saul Leiter: Origins in Color
Date: July 8th – August 23rd, 2023
Opening Hours: 11:00 – 20:00 (Final day till 19:30)
Place: Shibuya Hikarie Hall, Hall A
Address: 9F Shibuya Hikarie, 2-21-1 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Text: Alma Reyes

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