David Husom Photographer
Saul Leiter, overlooked early master of color photography? 
Thursday, January 25, 2007, 03:16 PM
When I was a young art student in the early 70's I had a painting class where a couple of the students had a running argument with the teacher that "what if great artists are being ignored?" After all isn't the history of art full of artists who were not recognized in their own time? The professor would respond that it was just not possible anymore. "Everything changed during WWII with the center of the art world moving from Paris to New York" he would say.

The painting teacher was a first generation New York School Abstract Expressionists named Raymond Hendler, who twenty years earlier was a founding member of the Club. The Club was a loose-knit group of abstract artists that included William and Elaine de Kooning, Robert Motherwell and on occasion Jackson Pollock. It also included lesser known painters like Hendler, Herman Cherry and Peter Busa. In addition it contained a photographer: Saul Leiter. In fact, the Club gave Leiter his first exhibition in their meeting room.

What makes Leiter interesting is that his work drew heavily on the Abstract Expressionists. But unlike the painters who believed that abstraction grew from within the artist, Leiter found it on the streets of New York. His work therefore is quite different than photographer Aaron Siskind, who's photographs often looked like abstract painting. Leiter instead drew from Cartier-Bresson, and one would guess the Photo League in New York. His work clearly has some 35mm street photography influences, even though it predates Robert Frank.

The work of Leiter has been featured at the Millwaukee Art Museum this winter and I was quite impressed not only with the work, but also with the exhibit in general. Leiter had the misfortune of working in a medium that did not gain full acceptance in the art world until at least the mid-70's. But worse he was working in color photography, which for the most part was ignored until relatively recently. The fact that his medium was 35mm slides made for even greater difficulty in exhibiting his work when he was making it.

Fortunately technology has now made printing from slides conventionally or digitally much easier. The MAM exhibit contained wonderful contemporary prints of the work. But wisely they also had the images as Leiter would have originally exhibited them: as a slide show you could sit and watch.

It is ironic that my old teacher Ray Hendler probably knew Saul Leiter. Although Leiter was not completely ignored, Edward Steichen did show his work at MOMA, he has not gotten the attention he deserved. So were the students right? Are great artists sometimes overlooked? Perhaps on occasion. But I know Hendler would argue that does not mean that the museums of the world will throw out their Picasso's and O'Keefes soon and embrace Classic Realists who think that all painting since Rembrandt is misdirected. Somehow Leiter just fell through the cracks.

I quit painting about 6 months after taking that class to devote full time to photography. But often when I am looking through the viewfinder, or at the ground glass I hear Hendler's voice "Push it further! What are you looking at here! I see you are thinking; that's good!" I hope he gave Leiter the same encouragement because his work did push the boundaries of photography that we are only now understanding over 50 years later. If you hurry you still have a few more days to see this wonderful work.

Milwaukee Art Museum Lobby. By David Husom (Cell phone photo)

See Saul Leiter at the Milwaukee Art Museum

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WSJ on Bruce Berman and Where We Live 
Wednesday, January 24, 2007, 06:49 PM
The Wall Street Journal did a very nice article on Bruce Berman and the Getty Museum exhibit Where We Live: Photographs of America from the Bruce Berman Collection. I think the article captures both the Village Roadshow offices with its amazing photo collection and Mr. Berman quite well.

Of course the article did overlook one very important detail. The Village Roadshow Pictures movie Happy Feet was nominated for an Academy Award yesterday for best animated movie.

It is a wonderful film; it is probably the best computer animated film made to date. I know I am biased here, but I have seen just about every computer animated feature since the ground breaking Pixar short Tin Toy was upscaled to Toy Story. I even remember rippling water getting a standing ovation at SIGGRAPH film festivals in the early 90's, but Happy Feet brings computer animation to a whole new level. And it is a fun flick with toe tapping music. Check it out...

Happy Feet

Wall Street Journal Feb 24th 2007

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The Street Photography Influence on Large Format Documentary Photography 
Monday, January 1, 2007, 09:01 AM

Mahnomen County Fairgrounds, Mahnomen Minnesota 1980

In his blog on documentary photography 2point8.whileseated.org Michael David Murphy raises the issue of street photography from photographers who are primarily using large format in the Getty exhibit Where We Live Photographs of America from the Berman Collection. If you look back to the 50s and 60s it really was Frank, Friedlander, Winogrand, Arbus and the street photographers who carried on the FSA tradition of Evans and Lange. It therefore should not be too surprising to see their influences in work from the 70s to today - even those of use who use sheet film cameras.

When I was a student Lee Friedlander would stop by to visit his old friend, and my mentor, Jerry Liebling. He had been a visiting instructor at the University of Minnesota a few years earlier and his influences were still widely felt in the late 60s and early 70s. It was hard to ignore, even if you were, like me, more drawn to Pop Art than street photography. I often feel a bit of Friedlander - it is most obvious in my photo of Mahnomen in the Getty show. But you can not pick up a camera, turn it on the real world, and not be aware of those who stalked the streets with a Leica.

It is also nice that Murphy picked up on Sheron Rupp's work. In a show of great photographs her work stands strong and tall.

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No Point - Life on the Wisconsin side 
Thursday, December 14, 2006, 12:06 PM
John Turula, a sculptor who's work I must confess graces my front yard, back yard and the steps leading up to our front door has been doing a Web site of some of the artists that live along the Mississippi River here in Western Wisconsin. He has chosen me as his artist of the month this month.

John also ran a short lived gallery - Gallery EE, that was listed as one of the 10 best undiscovered places to view art near the Twin Cities. Alas, it is gone but his site is worth a look to get a sense of what some of us along the backwaters are doing.


By the way, he explains what No Point means on the site. It is point on the river, that is really not a point at all. Get the point?

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Another Getty Photo Show Review 
Wednesday, December 6, 2006, 11:49 AM
The blog TinyWindows has a short review of the Where We Live Getty show.

He has also picked out two books he really likes: As a lover of postcards I found his book pick of Real Photo Postcards very interesting. It is worth a good look. Also his Non Facturé: Rejected Photographs on rejected snapshots looks wonderful! I do not know who the blogger is, he remains anonymous, but he has a real understanding of the vernacular.


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