saul leiter

On Style Influences


My internet pal Riccardo Mori posted a lovely photo on his Flickr gallery – a window shot with silhouettes and great lighting.

“I’m glad you liked it,” he said. “I thought you might.”

That got me thinking: are my stylistic preferences so obvious? Is it easy to suss what I like? It’s probably pretty simple to know what I like based on the types of photos I post to my own Flickr feed and blog.

While I tend to like lots of styles of photography, I guess there is one that draws my eye more than others. The background on this is my years-long photo book adventure: taking photo books from the masters and studying them to see what moves me.

The first time I really felt the “aha” moment was when I saw Ray Metzker’s work:


That low-key lighting, the deep shadows, the shafts of sunlight illuminating a street scene. It’s dramatic, almost apocalyptic, and I loved it when I saw it.

Metzker’s mentor, Harry Callahan, was an originator of this look:


From here, it’s easy to see the influence these guys had on a modern day, LA street shooter, Rinzi Ruiz (@streetzen here on Tumblr):


Ruiz does a lot of black and white work, but his color work seems extra punchy.

So that’s where the deep shadow, punchy color influence comes from. These photographers are doing it on the street, and on a seemingly grander scale.

A more intimate shooter, Patrick la Roque, is another influence.


I called the above shot “the most perfect photo,” because it has everything I look for: dramatic lighting, beautiful colors, and that special glow. Patrick does a great job of capturing his family and home surroundings, and his work is a continual inspiration for me.

And then my all-time favorite is Saul Leiter’s color work from New York:


It’s hard to overstate Saul’s influence on just about everyone. For me, it’s more than the style. It’s his special eye – the way he makes each photo a painting, and uses perspective and zones within the composition to tell a story.


William Eggleston was another influence for me. His work in Los Alamos and William Eggleston’s Guide was fantastic, and he helped me see the beauty in the ordinary.

The trick to all this is to not let style get in the way of substance, or meaning.

I keep seeing photographers using that low-key, high-contrast look to great effect. Maybe my style will change, maybe not. Maybe it will evolve, or maybe I’ll stick with what I like. I don’t know.

But I know what I like, and that’s led me to some fun creative spaces.

Sunday With Saul Leiter

Sundays With Saul Leiter

I’ve become somewhat of a collector of photo books in recent years. My favorite has become Saul Leiter. He only released a few books while he was alive, and it’s my goal to get them all.

This Sunday I watched In No Great Hurry as well. It’s the perfect weekend documentary: quiet, relaxing, and yet entertaining.

I hope that, as the years go by, Saul’s estate releases more of his work in photo book form. Especially the newer stuff – he never stopped shooting. It’d be nice to see some of his modern, digital work, because (and they hint at it in the movie) his style never really changed. Saul Leiter was always Saul Leiter.

You can still get Early Color, though it isn’t the easiest to find. And Early Black and White is a double book that’s a look of fun to see.

Study the masters, gang. Find someone you like and study the hell out of them. Steal and copy. Make it your own. Maybe start with Saul.

Photographer Interview: Maarten Rots

Color, shadow, light – these are the “paint” a photographer uses to make photographs. It’s fun to see when a photographer like Maarten Rots use these materials in an abstract way: pure color, pure shadow, depth, and layers, and light.

I like following Maarten because he’s a maker – a guy who tackles living, breathing projects like his March & Rock magazine. He creates tangible things with his abstract photos.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Maarten Rots and I’m a full-time artist with a camera around my neck. I live and work in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where I also graduated from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in 2010, studying audio visual art. Besides capturing the world around me, I really enjoy taking the next step and try to figure out an interesting way to present my photography. One of the outcomes is my self-published photography magazine March & Rock.

How did you get started in photography?

I actually filmed quite a bit before really making the jump to still photography. I used to go out with my video camera in a way that’s similar to how many street photographers work, hoping to catch an interesting scene.

It was in the summer of 2014 when I had to replace my broken video camera when I decided to go for a DSLR. I quickly (re)discovered the power of the still image and have mainly been photographing since.

What do you like about your photography?

It helps me see the world through a different lens. Literally but also figuratively – by being very clear about what I decide to have inside and outside the frame I construct my own version of reality, with photographic evidence. There is a beautiful sense of abstraction to be found in everyday life and I really enjoy emphasizing that through photography. The challenge is to do it all in-camera, I refrain from removing or adding elements and filters. Everything is already there when I shoot it, what I see is what you get.

I love the style of your photography – it reminds me a lot of Saul Leiter. Where do you get inspiration for your style/ideas?

The discovery of Saul Leiter’s work has undeniably had an impact on my own development. I really like to create layered images, and that’s where reflections can play an important role. When there are people in my shots they are mostly passersby or entourage, whereas in Saul Leiter’s work they are much more the subject of his images.

I really enjoy the work of photographers such as Alex Webb and Harry Gruyaert – both members of Magnum, but I am interested in other fields of art as well. A more recent discovery is the painter Lyonel Feininger, whose abstraction – the way he abstracted reality in his paintings – is something I strive for with my photographs.

Victor Kossakovsky’s film Tishe (Hush) is one of the films that has been of influence on my work. Not so much style-wise, but the concept behind the film. He shot the whole thing from his apartment, capturing what was happening right outside his door. The conviction that an interesting story can be found anywhere is something he applied again in his 2011 film ¡Vivan las antipodas! – where he filmed life in opposite ends of the world.

Fill in blank: “For me, a camera is my way to…”

Capture and share how I see reality.

What kinds of themes do you explore with your work?

I function really well in urban environments and architecture takes an important place in my photographs. I like to explore and go to new places as often as possible.

I carefully construct the compositions in my photographs by taking different positions and distances from the situation I want to capture. I can take quite some time to find the best way to frame a shot as I try to restrict myself to take only a single image. In that sense I think you could compare my process more to that of a painter than a street photographer. I don’t want to rely on the “lucky shot” – I take care to make sure the image is as it comes out before I press the shutter release button. Abstraction has become a more and more important theme in my photography. Trying to capture multiple layers in a single exposure helps me add a level of abstraction as I construct a new reality.

Any upcoming projects or shoots you’re working on?

In July last year (2015) I did the first edition of my photography project, Siting. This project revolves around a simple concept: I photograph a fixed area for one week and choose one photograph each day that will be printed on a larger scale and becomes part of an exhibition afterwards. The area to work in is designated by the space I use to do the project; it serves as the center point of a one-mile radius, which then becomes the area where I can take photographs. The first edition took place in Amsterdam.

I am planning to expand this project worldwide, I have a few options for this year and chances are high that there will be editions in Las Vegas and Antwerp in the coming months.

Next to that I am always working on the next edition of March & Rock, my photography magazine. My wife and I recently bought a VW camper van which enables me to go and shoot in a lot of different places. This will definitely show through in coming editions of March & Rock!

To see more of Maarten’s work, follow him on Instagram. You can also read more about Maarten’s work on street photographer Eric Kim’s blog.

A Search for Beauty

I may be old-fashioned, but I believe there is such a thing as a search for beauty – a delight in the nice things in the world. And I don’t think one should have to apologize for it.

Saul Leiter (via bijan)

…and really all you need to make photos. “A search for beauty.”

REVIEW: Saul Leiter, ‘Early Black and White’

After some searching and some digging, I finally earned my copy of Saul Leiter’s posthumous new collection, Early Black and White.

It’s the follow up to Steidl’s popular (and delightful) Early Color monograph, which has gone through five editions since 2007. The Black and White series comes in two books, “Interior” and “Exterior.”

Saul Leiter self portrait

You can learn more about Leiter’s biography and style influences from Photo-Eye and Faded+Blurred, but suffice it to say that Leiter’s work, especially his color work, is a recent discovery in the art world. Now we get to see more of his monochromatic work.

The two-book package is nice. The slip cover is a little flimsy, but the books’ paper and quality and top-notch. Often I felt like the photos could’ve been a little larger – some of them scream to be printed 8×10″ on the page. But Early Black and White’s size matches that of Early Color, so at least it’s consistent.

Something I noticed: “Interior” doesn’t necessarily mean just photos that Leiter took indoors. No, “Interior” seems to represent Leiter’s relationships – inside his personal life, with family, friends, and kids. There are photos of relations on the streets, on walks and on rooftops.

Similarly, “Exterior” is outward-looking: strangers, city scenes, classic candid street photography. This is the classic Leiter we’re familiar with from his color work, with reflections, windows, and slanted glances of strangers throughout the book.

There are pieces of both books that I appreciate, but the “Exterior” edition recalls the Leiter that inspires me. There are a lot of photos in “Interior” that seem simple snapshots of friends at parties. I wouldn’t dare argue that these are outside of “art,” but they aren’t as moving. Sometimes they feel like filler.

There are exceptions. In many cases, Leiter makes art of of photos of friends and lovers, as above.

It’s the “Exterior” stuff that shows what Leiter can do, even if it’s not the color stuff that made him famous.

And on that, I will say that, while his monochrome work is delightful, you start to miss Leiter-in-color as you pour through each book. He makes the black and white tones do a lot of work, but they’re not as poetic as those early color photographs.

Leiter’s collection of work still surpasses most street photographers. His way of seeing the world is truly unique, and poetic, and over the course of several books his subject matter becomes truly his. Umbrellas, windows, weather, pedestrians – everyday stuff, illuminated.

Lately, I’ve devoured photography books from the masters, and out of all of those Leiter’s work (and perhaps William Eggleston’s) speaks to me the most.

I hope that these Early books are the just the beginning of the publication of Leiter’s work. The essayists hint that he always had a camera on him. It would be great to see how Leiter, through his camera lens, saw ‘80s, ’90s, and 2000s

A note on purchasing

It’s tough to figure out how to buy this book series. You can’t purchase it directly from Steidl’s website, and the Amazon listing is a series of third-party book sellers.

I found my copy through the Book Depository, a UK outfit, even though it’s perpetually out of stock. The site does offer a nice “email me when it’s in stock” option, though it took me a few tries to hit the “add to cart” button in time.

But the books arrived quickly and at a decent price, and delivery is free. So you may have some luck in finding a copy.