Yumiko Izu – Saul Leiter: In Stillness

Review by Wayne Swanson

Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a Saul Leiter photograph? The soothing atmosphere, the soft, light and, most of all, the gentle painterly color palette of a pioneer in color street photography. As Yumiko Izu discovered, Leiter not only shot such images, he did indeed live in them. The apartments in a building on East 10th Street in New York City that were his home and studio for 60 years are a warm reflection of the artist and his work.

Izu, a New York-based fine art photographer known for her quiet, meditative imagery, met Leiter many years ago. She recalls her first visit to his home as “a magical experience. We talked about art projects, current affairs, old Japanese woodblock prints, and cats. The conversation was full of humor, laughter, and inspiration.” Then, shortly after Leiter died in 2013 at the age of 89, Izu was given permission to photograph his apartments. The result is Saul Leiter: In Stillness, an intimate portrait of the artist through what he left behind.

Izu uses the magnificent clutter in which he lived to explore his life history. We see the physical spaces with their peeling paint, expansive windows, and a lifetime of memories. Leiter, whose heroes were artists like Degas, Vuillard, and Bonnard, came to New York in 1946 to be a painter. He continued to paint in the apartment every day, and we see his tools and artwork. Shortly after he arrived he also bought a camera and took his first street photographs. We see his work prints, snapshots, and rolls and rolls of undeveloped film. We also see knickknacks, keepsakes, and snippets of his poetry, along with mementos of his Jewish faith (he was following his father’s path to becoming a rabbi before he escaped to the artist’s life in New York). And we feel the presence of his life partner and muse, Soames Bantry, through her artwork and his photos of her.

Izu’s images show the many ways his life imitated his art. His street photography was painterly, leaning toward abstract expressionism, and always searching for beauty in everyday life. Curator Pauline Vermare notes in her essay in the book that “Like Leiter’s own images, [Izu’s] photographs are filled with tenderness, a testament to her fondness for him. What moves us here, beyond the memories of Saul Leiter, is the perfect resonance between their two very distinct sensibilities.”

The book itself is beautifully produced, with the images presented full-bleed on 8 ½ by 12-inch pages, some as 2-page spreads, quietly embracing the soft romance of color in Leiter’s world. Incisive essays by Vermare, as well as Margit Erb, director of the Saul Leiter Foundation, and Izu, provide useful background and context. Altogether, the book presents a rich yet understated tribute to a revered yet modest photographic artist.

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Saul Leiter: In Stillness, Yumiko Izu

Photographer: Yumiko Izu, born Osaka, Japan, resides Rhinebeck, New York, USA

Publisher: Libro Arte (Tokyo, Japan, copyright 2020)

Essays: Pauline Vermare, Margit Erb, Yumiko Izu

Text: Japanese, English

Hardcover book, sewn binding, four-color lithography, 8 ½ x 12 inches, 120 pages, printed in Japan

Photobook designer: Osamu Ouchi (nano/nano graphics)

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Articles & photographs published on PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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