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Saul Leiter - Street Photography with Color Accents

The work of one of the brightest artists of street photography and their analysis
Author of the article: Tatiana Zhakova
Journalist, linguist, teacher of storytelling with 10 years of experience
In 2015 she created and promoted her project about Nizhny Novgorod,, after which she created a course called "Storytelling: How to Tell Your Story" based on it. Over 4,000 students have taken the course.

A linguist by education, she quickly masters new areas. Now she is actively studying screenwriting and storytelling in movies/serials, and writes about it in her project's blog.
Saul Leiter has been called the "pioneer of street photography" because he was one of the first to use color in street photography. In his day, it was considered a real art to photograph the street in black and white, because bright color pictures were associated with magazine advertisements.

And Sol Leiter was quite good at it - from the 1950s to the 1970s he worked as a fashion photographer for Harper's Bazaar, the already trendy glossy.

Street photography has always been a hobby for him.

What's interesting is that Sol Leiter saw beauty in everything, and to create a masterpiece, he didn't have to go outside his neighborhood or even his room.

But because of his innate modesty, he never showed his street photos to anyone in particular. Only after his death in 2013 were huge boxes of negatives found, digitized and published to this day.
Perhaps that's part of the special charm of his photographs. That everything depicted in them is long gone, dissolved, slipped away. Gone are those people, gone is the era.

Perhaps if these photographs had been published in time, they would not have seemed so appealing. But now we enjoy looking at mid-20th century New York City and being inspired by the composition and color spots in Sol Leiter's work.
Let's find out what makes his photos so special
In this photo, we see a burgundy curtain in the foreground, and, in fact, it takes up almost the entire frame.

Contrasted with it is the gray asphalt, on which the silhouettes of two people, a man and a woman, are almost indistinguishable. They counterbalance each other very well, but what is particularly interesting is that from the man we see only his legs, hurrying, judging by the pants, from work.

The shadows on the pavement and the characters' clothes hint to us that it is probably a workday and they are out for lunch. And it's as if we're peeking out from behind this very café, where they might be going for that very lunch.

But what story connects them? And does it? Do they know each other, work in adjoining offices, have fallen in love, or are they just strangers who have never met each other?

All these thoughts subconsciously arise when we look at this photo. That's how storytelling works in good photography. There is definitely a quality story behind this photo.

The main thing that catches the eye here are two color accents:

The yellow van
and the doorman's green uniform.

The picture is cloudy, we are looking through a fogged-up window.

It is probably raining or snowing, the temperature is sub-zero, and the person in the foreground is reading or writing something - I can't make it out.

And despite the bad weather outside the window, we feel the warmth that wafts from this photograph. Because the colors are warm.
In this photo, let's pay attention to the composition:

Three-quarters of the frame is taken up by a large black cloth, under which the photographer is hiding. Whether it is an umbrella or a canopy, we can't make out much, but the bare silhouette of a tree is just tucked away in the slot on the left.

Throughout the rest of the shot we see bad weather and people dressed in black and gray coats, wrapped in their scarves. The only spot of color is a yellow folder in the hands of a man.

It is clearly bad weather outside, and it is this black space that conveys the mood of the city: as if everything around has turned into one big black umbrella, protecting from snow and rain.

"I must confess that I have great respect for certain notions of beauty, although for some this idea is old-fashioned. Some photographers think that by capturing human suffering they are solving serious problems. I don't think there's any more depth to suffering than there is to happiness."

There is, at first glance, nothing remarkable in this photo. But if we look more closely, we notice that in addition to the retro seats in warm yellow hues, there is also a man in the photo.

And, more precisely, his shoe, which nestles neatly on one of the seats.

Judging by the colors, it takes place at sunset, judging by the picture outside the window, the hero is either on a train or in a streetcar. The picture itself is taken through glass, which gives it a special charm, thanks to the reflection.

And the shoe is clearly expensive and polished, and wherever this man is going, you can see that he is quite well-off. And he is in a state of rest, since he has put his shiny shoe on the seat.

That's how a seemingly simple photograph can tell a story and make our brains fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle.
And this photo is absolutely stunning. It has a very striking and eloquent contrast of warmth and cold: the yellow light from the kiosk and from the lantern, as well as the gray steel of the building itself and the characters' clothing.

It is snowy, wet and slushy, and most of all we understand this not by the snow drifts on the kiosk, but by the smudged back of the citizen who came in for today's newspaper.

The print editions are carefully tucked away in the back of the kiosk, a light is on there, and the saleswoman is hanging out the newly arrived newspapers. That it is a saleswoman, we can tell by the apron tied over her coat.

This photograph is simultaneously about the rhythm of the big city (look at the high-rises in the background), about winter, about the news, about city life, and at the same time about the warmth that is always and everywhere, even on the worst of the day.

In the following pictures, vivid color and color combinations play a very important role. Try to look closely at the pictures yourself and think about the stories they tell.
I like ambiguity in photography. When the viewer is not sure what he or she is seeing... I appreciate that moment of confusion.
One of Sol Leiter's main weapons is definitely the blurring of colors and reflection in various mirrored surfaces.

Arm yourself with your phone, all sorts of cans through which you can get a blurry picture, and go on a photo hunt on a cloudy day. You can also achieve blurring in various processing applications.

When taking photos, pay attention to spots of color and people whose movement can tell a story. Don't forget to look for mirrored surfaces and shoot through them!

In this photo, we see a completely unusual and uncharacteristic process: workers decorating the building with butterfly figures.

The face of one man, who stands on a ladder and is the main man in the picture, is completely covered by a wing, but, to be fair, it should be noted that we do not see the faces of all the men.

But an old woman in a beige trench coat catches our attention-she's slowed down to take a closer look at the scenery. Or does it all mean something to her? And the grandmother attracted not only us, but also one of the men in the foreground.

The composition, the position of the bodies of different people, the unique process - that's what makes this shot unusual and memorable.
Here, of course, our eyes are drawn to the drawings on the window.

And both the unusual contours and the snowy curls. And they also compositionally echo the houses in the background, which adds harmony to the frame.

Who is depicted in the window? And who drew these characters, what did they mean?

And the snowy curls that look like spinning gears add dynamics and movement to the frame.

Even in the absence of living characters in the picture, it is still interesting for us to look at it.

In this shot we immediately notice a woman writing something, leaning over a small table in a cafe.

The small café is located in the center of the city or in some kind of fair, judging by the people and the sign on the blurred background. The woman herself has the latest haircut, the same haircut as the woman who came to lunch with her companion.

Our heroine's light blue turtleneck blends very harmoniously with the yellow background and the generally warm color background of the photograph.

And the heroine, judging by the table, has literally just read the newspaper and finished her tea with milk. And only if you look closely you will find that at the table next to her someone is also sitting who is happily smoking a cigarette after a meal.

It's a very "Parisian" photo. And notice the echoing red color!
And an absolutely New Year's Eve, festive, tender photo, the mood of which, of course, is created by large flakes of snow swirling around!

And now we can put such flakes in applications, but Sol Leiter obviously had to catch them, so to speak, "in real life".

Everything here is atmospheric: the lettuce store, the contrasting red traffic light, the flared retro dress of one of the heroines, and her kerchief.

It's as if the girl is asking for directions from the character under the umbrella.

And we, despite all the grayness and slush of a New York winter, feel the gentle thrill and joy of the approaching New Year and Christmas.