Photographer Saul Leiter has died [update]

American photographer Saul Leiter died on Tuesday 26 November in New York, according to Roger Szmulewicz at Fifty One Fine Art Photography in Antwerp, Belgium.

Leiter, who was 89, had been ill for the past three to four weeks, Szmulewicz tells BJP. “I spoke to him just before Paris Photo and he was getting worse. It all happened quite fast.”

Leiter was born in Pittsburgh in 1923 and moved to New York at the age of 23 to pursue a career as a painter. He was encouraged to pick up a camera by his friend, abstract expressionist painter, Richard Pousette-Dart.

Photographing for magazines including Esquire, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, Leiter also frequently worked in and around his home city of New York. Later in his life, and arguably since the publication of his 2006 monograph Saul Leiter: Early Color, Leiter became known for his vibrant colour street photographs.

Leiter was the subject of the documentary In No Great Hurry, directed by Tomas Leach and released by Moxie Pictures. In an interview published in BJP‘s sister title, Fade To Black, Leach, who has recently been in New York promoting the film, talked about his experience of making the documentary. “Over the course of these trips, we became very close. I thought it was important that, seeing as I was invading his life, he should be allowed to ask me anything he liked… It was just a very open, honest and enjoyable experience, regardless of the fact that we were filming.”

In an email sent to BJP this afternoon, a representative from Leiter’s New York gallery, Howard Greenberg, confirmed that he had died yesterday (Tuesday 26 November 2013) at 10.50pm. The gallery was unable to provide a comment.

Speaking to BJP on the phone from New York, Leach said he had spent time with Leiter at his home and last saw him yesterday during the day. “I’ve been out here for screenings of the film ironically enough. Saul’s been ill and I’ve been with him. He was very old and frail. It was all very sudden and I think everyone is still adjusting to [what’s happened]. He was just short of 90 so you’re always worried about anyone of that age getting sick.”

Leach told how through making the film with Leiter and Margit, the photographer’s “right-hand woman” who also co-produced the film, he had become close to people who knew Leiter, including those at Howard Greenberg Gallery, which hosted a screening of the film only yesterday.

The film has been screened in New York, Berlin, and London amongst other places, and has generally been well received, added Leach. “People are really liking the film, which is great. Bringing the film back to New York is almost like coming full circle. It’s a very New York film and Saul was a very New York person. I’m meant to be flying back tomorrow but I don’t know whether I’ll stay for a few days if there is going to be a service.”

Recounting his memories of the photographer Leach talked about how he would remember his sense of humour. “The thing I always loved about Saul is how funny he was and how much humour he found in absolutely everything. Some of my fondest memories are of him teasing me and then giggling. I’m fortunate to have been able to spend time with someone who was not only a great photographer but was an incredibly intelligent, insightful and funny man.”