Saul Leiter was a respected fashion photographer until, in his twilight years, he became renowned for his abstract photographs and paintings. Now regarded as a pioneer for his mid-twentieth century work with colour, he’s associated with The New York School whose alumni included Diane Arbus. Throughout this documentary, there’s something sloth-like about Leiter: in his New York drawl he claims he’s lazy and unambitious yet his cluttered apartment, which he attempts to clear, tells a different story.
He’s a prolific, intelligent artist whose meditative and quietly observant persona is reflected in his street pictures of urban lives in passing. By turns self-effacing, wise, humorous and peevish, the 90-year-old Leiter is at his most poignant when remembering his long-term partner, the late Soames Bantry.
Leiter muses on religion, his scholarly but cold upbringing, age, art and relationships, while his take on photography is refreshingly free of ego: he doesn’t seek to control and believes taking pictures teaches us to stop and look. Broken down into 13 lessons in life, this is a gentle and melancholy film that, given his advancing years, could be Leiter’s swan song.