Life Lessons with Saul Leiter


We recently watched the film In No Great Hurry, an intimate look at the veteran New York photographer Saul Leiter, and his ideas on photography, fame, and his struggle to organise the archive that has taken over his apartment.

Leiter’s honest and sardonic responses to filmmaker Tomas Leach’s questions, and his reaction to the intrusive film camera make him endearing, and more so when you grasp the significant place he holds within the history of colour photography.

Here are our favourite Leiter statements from the film, paraphrased and interspersed with some of his iconic images from the 50s including a couple of the ‘love of his life’, Soames Bantry.

Snow, 1960 (Image Source:

…when I look back on my life and how badly prepared I was for living in the world, I am astonished that I had the nerve, the illusion that I could manage to survive…


Reflection, 1958  (Image Source:

…if you know enough about photography, you realise that nothing is really that new; that is if you really know what has been done and tried by other people…


Newspaper Kiosk, 1955 (Image Source:

Through Boards, 1957 (Image Source:

On how his archive reached its extensive proportions –
If you’re a painter or a photographer and you do things, and no one sees them or buys them, no one takes them away… you don’t destroy them…


Red Umbrella, 1957 (Image Source:

On growing old –
One day you’re walking down the street and you look at your reflection in a window and see that there’s this old guy walking beside you. And then you realise that that’s who you are, that’s who you’ve become.


Foot on El, 1958 (Image Source:

A window covered with raindrops interests me more than a photograph of a famous person.


Walk with Soames, 1958 (Image Source:

The one good thing about photography is that it teaches you to look; it teaches you to appreciate all kinds of things.


Parade, 1954 (Image Source:

I like having people like what I do.


Saul Leiter, Shopping, ca. 1953 © Saul Leiter Courtesy: Saul Leiter, Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York
Shopper, 1953 (Image Source:

On finding no reason to be in a rush to make it big –
How much work do you really have to do to satisfy people, who probably don’t care anyway?


Saul Leiter. '
Soames Bantry, ‘Nova’, 1960 (Image Source:

…some people consider it important to enjoy beauty, to take delight in the nice things in the world and without apologising for it…


Leiter’s work comes to us as a breath of fresh air. He manages to capture the essence of human beings without needing to go into details. His New York is the streets he’s lived in, the one’s that have allowed him to blend into the crowd. And we are richer for them.

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