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Saul Leiter 'Early Color'

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I know that the exhibition 'Early color' was mentioned in an earlier thread but I've just bought a copy of the

book and I just want to give it a plug.


It's published, at least in the UK, by Steidl (who also published the brilliant 'Evelyn Hofer') and is very nicely

printed publication that I think must go some way justice to doing justice to the photos. The pictures

themselves are exquisite.


I know a lot of people rightly sing the praises of Eggleston and his colour photography but Leiter's work

was done, considerably, earlier in the '50s and I think his praises should be sung too. End of rant.


Highly recommneded.

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I have seen some of his work in person -- it is superb. Very interesting to see the world of

the fifties in color as well. It's funny how those of us who did not live it associate the world of

that era as being in black and white. For me, everything from the 1860s to the 1960s seems

black and white, but everything before and after seems in color...Don't get me wrong though,

Leiter's work is interesting for many reasons beyond the fact that it is in color...

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The introduction to the book is interesting. It state that, to achieve the look he was after,

Leiter would experiment with out of date emulsions and some of the more obscure colour

films then available. However he created it, it's a wonderful use of colour.


Sadly, the exhibition prints are, for me at least, prohibitively expensive.

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i was in paris a couple of years back and finally got round to going up the arc de triomphe. In

the large rom at the top of the arc was an exhibition of colour photographs from the first

world war - pretty amazing stuff really - lots of bombed out cathedrals and troops at rest

and troops going in to battle. I had never really registered that colour film existed that far

back. Afraid I have no recollection of who took the pictures, but fairly sure he was some

french officer type.



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Nobody said that Eggleston was the first great colour photographer. I simply that he gets a

lot of praise for his use of colour.


Haas is fine but I personally think there's something very special about Leiter's colour work

from the '50s.

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I have a 1960 "The German Photographic Annual" (in English) and a 1960 "U.S. Camera Annual". Both have a very small section of color photos. My collection of Popular Photography Magazine's annuals from the 1960's have very little color either.
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Andrew, I really like Saul Leiter's work, but I also understand the emphasis put on the

significance of Eggleston. He's one of the few people that the critics have got right - lazy

received wisdom (as exemplified by the pointless comment on Haas) on the last hundred

years of photo history is ripe for revisionism. If you reflect on Eggleston's Guide 30 years

on you see how he influenced (thinking) photographers in pretty much every genre

imaginable - reportage, fashion, landscape, portraiture.....Obviously, there are other great

photographers (many predating him), but I don't think any other has had such a profound

and lasting impact. Everything changed - for the better - after Eggleston.

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IMO the best color photographers have always been commercial illustrative photographers...certainly today, but going waaaay back. Ernst Haas is an example, as was Irving Penn.


Ektachrome E3 was the big breakthrough in the 50s...lovely stuff, far better than anything before it, save Kodachrome, almost as good as the best E4 (there were many good E3 labs, hardly any good E4 labs).


Most of the images in Arizona Highways Magazine were, for decades, E3. I was priviliged to inspect a number of these by the pioneer color landscape photographer Josef Muench (father of David Muench, as great as his father) in 4x5 in the 80s...these chromes had generally shifted heavily magenta, but were easy to correct in duplication for color separation.




I'm sure we've all seen the color photos of Hitler et al




My mother Lilian, a farm girl born 1916, shot and home-developed photos of the 1939 World's Fair (Treasure Island, San Francisco Bay). Tripod night-shots of colorfully lit buildings, fireworks etc. These slides still look good..but due to the subject matter it's impossible to say if the color has shifted ! I think it's Agfachrome (which had to become "Anscochrome" due to the war...prehaps someone correct me on that history). Anscochrome was very easy to develop (like E3), had punchy, crude colors, and managed to survive into the 70s, when I ran one of the last small audiovisual labs that used it (Palo Alto CA).

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Boris, Doris and Maurice, agreed: Eggleston's influence cannot be overestimated.


However, as I was leafing through some of the style bibles in RD Franks yesterday, it did

occur to he is also inadvertently responsible for a lot of very lazy photography out there.

It's not his fault I know but, there are way too many shots of rubbish bins, appartment

blocks with washing lines, discarded tricycles, etc filling out these mags. I've also seen a

lot of this at some recent graduate shows.


Mind you, this could be me being in a grump 'cause I've now got to go and photograph

some architects at a fairground and it's currently belting with rain in Londonium.


BTW, Leiter's work intrigues me in many ways and one minor interest is that it would be

extremely tricky to plagarise.


PS: you know about these things, what's a good flash for the 5D?

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Anscochrome and Agfachrome were based on the same tecchnology. I think Agfa owned a controlling interest in Ansco before WW-II. Neither film had really long term stable color, and the Agfachrome had very sharp edged grain, like B&W film developed in Agfa Rodinol.The Anscochrome was very easy to process yourself. They sold little one pint kits. The biggest pain was mounting the slides.


E3 Ektachrome had better color than E2 but required refridgerated storage and didn't have a really long shelf life. E4 was a big improvement over E2, and E6 pretty much killed off E3 for most uses.

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Thanks Al...your recollection about small Ansco kits does seem to fit my mother's story. I shoot mostly B&W now, but I've got color reversal in my blood (and an allergy to hydroquinone).


In the Seventies I ran Media Generalists in San Francisco.. Smithsonian said it was the best E4 lab in the country. I left it to convert an Anscochrome lab to E4. Both labs served audio visual producers. All the while I processed E3 at home in a bathtub setup :-) Commercial photographers often found E3, processed by themselves, better than typical custom lab E4. E6 was FABULOUS right out of the chute, a strong, EQUAL rival to Kodachrome. More color accurate, as sharp as any lens, more subtle. Naysayers simply have not dealt with good E6 labs.

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Eggleston shot large format? Don't think. Isn't he Leica or Fuji 6x9 man?


As for saying that others had already done what he did, maybe or maybe not. But if it was

already very familiar why did it cause such a critical fuss when it was first exhibited in the



Personally, I don't think there were many photographers doing what Eggleston was doing.

Having said that, I don't know a huge amount about the fine art scene in photography and

I prefer Saul Leiter anyway :)

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In "William Eggleston in the Real World" he is seen using an old Mamiya Universal and a

couple of 35mm cameras. I was under the impression that his first show was based on

35mm slide film. As I understand it the reason that he is seen as such a landmark figure is

that he was one of the first colour photographers to have a solo exhibition at a large art



I hadn't heard of Saul Leiter before but google brought up a couple of images and they are



I have seen a couple of beautiful colour photographs by Lartigue dating from (I think) the

1920s. Also a quick look at wiki brought up this photo from a Russian chap who invented

a colour process - Sergei Mikhailovich Porkudin-Gorskii - which dates from 1905, which

even predates the french WWI autochromes I mentioned above.



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"....and who was that Danish photographer, whose colour work from the '40s, Martin Parr has

been championing? I think a book of his was re-published last year. Amazing stuff and

incredibly advanced."


Keld Helmer Peterson. Duh! Apologies to Kevin Smith for not noticing his mentioning this

earlier. Anyway, another interesting fine art photographer working in colour. Still seems


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