Ever wonder what would happen if you let go of pursuing professional acclaim and instead just photographed the beauty in the world? Pioneer color photographer Saul Leiter did just that, spending his life humbled by the world, shunning fame and attention, in search of what made him happy. And—lucky for us—a few short years before his death in 2013, fame found him anyway.
Leiter catapulted to the public’s attention in 2006 when Steidl Verlag published Saul Leiter: Early Color. Comprising the breadth of Leiter’s color images for the first time, the book contains a treasure trove of color photographs that make the street look like an abstract painting. Leiter’s deep, warm, rich, soulful color tones and talent for turning real life into shapes of beauty is without equal. And thanks to documentary filmmaker Tomas Leach, we now have a portal into the extraordinarily joyful man behind these photographs.
“In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life With Saul Leiter” is a lovely, tender documentary film that portrays Leiter as he clears a lifetime of photographs, paintings and personal memorabilia from his apartment in New York City. Leach and Leiter have an obvious connection, and their conversations are rife with sweet, simple exchanges about life, art, and Leiter’s distinctly demure outlook on his life. “I was hoping to be forgotten,” he says in the film. “I aspire to be unimportant.”
As Leach’s camera pans Leiter’s cluttered apartment, you hear the filmmaker’s gentle voice ask Leiter about a variety of topics—his photographic accomplishments, making money and his longtime lover and muse, to name a few—all of which reveal an incredibly jovial, kind-hearted man secure in his choices in life. A self-proclaimed “lost, confused person who sometimes used the camera with a touch of intelligence—but not too much,” Leiter—never one to take himself seriously—finishes almost every sentence with a contagious giggle.
About the overwhelming clutter in his apartment, Leiter muses, “But disorder, there’s a certain kind of charm and comfort in disorder that not everyone appreciates. To know everything is not good. To be in a state of pleasant confusion sometimes can be very satisfying, especially if you’re slightly crazy. But I must not let on that I know this,” he says as a wide, genuine smile slowly consumes his face.
In another part of the film, referring to his choices in life, he says, “I have nothing against a view of life that considers it worthwhile to pursue certain notions of beauty. I see nothing wrong with that. I see no reason to apologize. Some people, I think, are very attracted to what is not very attractive. What is miserable. What is wretched. . . . I believe—if I may be old fashioned—I believe there’s such a thing as a search for beauty, a delight in the nice things in the world, and I don’t think one should have to apologize for it.”
On November 26, 2013, just as the film was making its debut in New York City, Leiter fell ill and passed away. “In No Great Hurry: 13 Life Lessons With Saul Leiter” is a beautiful tribute to a man we could have all benefited from knowing.