One of the problems inherent in the medium of photography is that it doesn’t do abstraction well. What the majority of the viewing public appreciates is a declaration of fact: an easy aesthetic access point to the content of a photograph.
Saul Leiter, however, did abstraction well. Color, shape, shadow are not fixed facts in Leiter’s photographs, they bleed and reconfigure one another constantly. The subjects of his work are amorphous, but the photographs are never pure form.
From Teju Cole’s memoriam in the New Yorker:
"One of the most effective gestures in Leiter’s work is to have great fields of undifferentiated dark or light, an overhanging canopy, say, or a snow drift, interrupted by gashes of color. He returned again and again to a small constellation of subjects: mirrors and glass, shadows and silhouettes, reflection, blur, fog, rain, snow, doors, buses, cars, fedoras. He was a virtuoso of shallow depth of field: certain sections of some of the photographs look as if they have been applied with a quick brush. It will come as no surprise to a viewer of his work that Leiter was also a painter, that his heroes were Degas, Vuillard, and Bonnard, and that he knew the work of Rothko and de Kooning well. There are points of contact between his work and that of photographers like Louis Faurer and Robert Frank, the so-called New York School; but Leiter was an original. He loved beauty."
Read the rest here: