Saul Leiter, whose late-life, full-on "rediscovery" was one of the pleasures of our new millennium, died in 2013 at 89 but is very much alive and well at the bookstore. Three new and recent collections of his work provide a fuller and more insightful portrait of the modest, charming, self-taught artist who said, "I was not prepared, I think, to live in the world, and so I did photography." The quote is from Saul Leiter: The ballad of Soams Bantry (Howard Greenberg/Lumiere Press), Michael Torosian's handsomely produced tribute and memoir. Cobbled together from reminiscences, interviews, conversations, and reviews, with an unusually sensitive selection of Leiter's (tipped-in) photographs and paintings, The Bllad captures not just Leiter's voice but his maverick spirit. Bantry, whom Leiter met as a model, was his partner and his muse, they shared an often precarious life and a pair of apartments in New York's East Village. Many of Leiter's pictures were made in the streets nearby, but after he walked away from his career as a fashion and editorial photography in the late 1960s, only close friends saw them. A small but fervent cult began forming once Jane Livingston inducted Leiter into The New York School with her 1992 book; following Steidl's publication of Early Color in 2006, that cult exploded. At 83, Leiter, who had no interest in fame, was suddenly a phenomenon. The Ballad takes all this as a given and sketches in rich, granular details about both Leiter and Bantry, including Esquire's Robert Benton's first impression of the photographer as "an unmade bed." "I believe the reason I developed something on my own as a photography was because I did what I wanted to do," Leiter said; he was almost incapable of doing otherwise.
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