As the son of a distinguished rabbi and Talmudic scholar, Saul Leiter could have been expected to follow a similar path. But instead, he chose to pursue a more unorthodox life in the creative arts and showcased a rich side of New York through decades of photographs.
Leiter moved to the city in the mid-1940s and became acquainted with Abstract Expressionist painter Richard Pousette-Dart, who also dabbled in photography. It wasn’t too long before Leiter also turned his eye to the lens, capturing the streets and people of New York with an almost lyrical quality and snapping pictures for Harper’s Bazaar and Esquire. He photographed many subjects that lay directly in his orbit, not too far from the East Village apartment that he’d inhabited since the 1950s.
The iconic photographer died in 2013, but his legacy endures through In My Room, a series of black-and-white photos of nude women from the mid-1940s through the early 1960s, including ones of his longtime partner Soames Bantry. The shoots took place in Leiter’s studio in the East Village. Given the era’s more conservative attitudes toward female behavior, the images were certainly taboo for their time. But what may have been more risqué was the everyday manner of the women Leiter painted through his lens. Quiet. Pensive. Joyous. Smoking a cigarette on an idle day. Changing clothes. Stripped of any artifice. And deeply personal, too. Some women gaze directly at the camera while others examine their makeup, but in any case, the photos establish the intimate level of trust between muse and photographer.
Leiter had intended to compile a book of the photos back in the 1970s, but the project never came to fruition while he was still alive. Fortunately for us, the Howard Greenberg Gallery has placed these images on view through June 30. The images— many of which are on display for the first time— will also be published in a book of the same name by the Steidl/Howard Greenberg Library.
“In My Room” will be on display at the Howard Greenberg Gallery (41 East 57th Street, Suite 1406) through June 30.