In No Great Hurry: 13 Life Lessons with Saul Leiter

by William E. Badgley

“There are the things that are out in the open and there are the things that are hidden… and life… the real world has more to do with what is hidden maybe… you think?” –Saul Leiter
The above sentiment goes a long way to describe the emotional and philosophical undercurrents that permeate the lifetime of photographic work by New York photographer Saul Leiter. He passed away Nov. 26, 2013 at his home in New York City at the age of 89.
Leiter’s photographs so tastefully and thoughtfully express the viewpoint and understanding of the hidden that they would never dare say its name out loud… they would whisper it, write it in the rain or in a patch of fog on a window… and that’s exactly what they do.
Considered one of the fouanding members of The New York School of Photographers of the 1940s and 50s, Leiter’s use of color and composition challenged everything known about photography at the time and helped define what we staunchly take for granted about it today.
Leiter’s photographic style resembled who he was as a person – shy but opinioned, soft spoken but clear about what he wanted to say, and a bit out of the way, down the block, not the center of attention. His photos were taken from afar or through an obscured viewpoint, such as a window, or some rain drops, or a crowded throughway, seemingly lost in the hustle and bustle of a mighty and relentless city.But exploding out of these moments comes images so powerful you feel they might break you with their softness, color and shape. They are so unique you don’t have to like them to know they are something special.
So why haven’t you heard of him? Why isn’t the name “Saul Leiter” familiar to everyone who’s ever picked up a camera? Maybe the following statement from Saul will go a bit further in explaining that: “In order to build a career and to be successful, one has to be determined. One has to be ambitious. I much prefer to drink coffee, listen to music and to paint when I feel like it.”
Clearly the author of such a statement wasn’t too concerned with the kind of things that would propel a photographer’s career forward in terms of fame and fortune. Saul seemed quite content to stand on his street corner in the quiet, in the rain, and make the connections that he was able to make there.
He was known in his own time to some extent. He took photographs for Esquire and Harper’s Bazaar, his book “Saul Leiter: Early Color” with a foreword by art historian Martin Harrison was released in 2006, and his photographs have appeared in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. But nonetheless, the character made visible in Tomas Leach’s first time attempt at documentary filmmaking feels like a softer, more loveable, and certainly more sociable man who got to feel at least some of the success he was due while he was still alive to enjoy it.
“In No Great Hurry: 13 Life Lessons with Saul Leiter” is not the most well produced documentary I’ve ever seen. The shooting and the editing are both shaky, and the narrative that exists in the film is murky at best and non-existent at worst. But what this film does do is one of the most important things that documentaries can do, which is bring the hidden to light. Due to the nature of Saul’s particular brilliance it is no great surprise that many of us have not heard of him until now, and I give Mr. Leach my heartfelt appreciation for sharing his story.
See the film at The Pickford Film Center on Tuesday, Jan. 28 at 6:30 p.m. The film trailer can be viewed at innogreathurry.com.