“You could almost say he had a lifetime of being continually rediscovered,” says Margit Erb, referring to her friend, the photographer Saul Leiter. Leiter — who died in 2013, just shy of his 90th birthday — had a varied seven-decade career, and gained his most significant recognition in the last years of his life, with the 2006 publication of his book “Early Color.” “I think his rise back to fame was because people just couldn’t help stumbling over and over him, and realizing that the world needed to know him,” Erb says.
Now, with “Saul Leiter: Retrospective,” a new show opening at the Photographers’ Gallery in London this Friday, Leiter’s work comes back into focus. The photographer was astonishingly prolific: though he moved to New York in 1946 to become a painter, he found success as a prominent fashion photographer, one of a trio — alongside Richard Avedon and Hiro — who dominated the pages of Harper’s Bazaar in the 1960s. For a period, he was well known, but his interest in magazine work eventually waned. “I think he just didn’t have a taste for it any more — to be pushed around,” says Erb. His studio closed in 1981, due to a failure to pay his taxes, and there followed a “very quiet time through the ’80s and early ’90s.”