As Saul told Margit in an informal interview at his studio in 2013, “I’m sure it is true of many photographers: One discovers good things that are unknown. The history of photography keeps changing as one learns more about good hidden and unknown things.” As we’ve viewed the slides, the history of Saul Leiter photography has indeed changed before our eyes. A good example is Central Park. In the print archive, we have six photographs taken in the park; in the slide archive there are currently eighty-nine.
Similarly, our view of Saul’s work from Manhattan’s Harlem neighbourhood has expanded exponentially, on finding upwards of 500 slides from shoots done for Esquire, to accompany an article on Charlie Parker (“Ballad of the Bird,” 1957) and an essay by James Baldwin (“Fifth Avenue, Uptown,” 1960). As was his habit, Saul blended business with pleasure and took a series of photographs for his own use while on a commercial assignment.
While Margit and I pressed on with the cataloging of the slides and our database continued to grow, planning began for a second Japanese retrospective exhibition, set to open in January 2020, just shy of three years after the first. As something of a litmus test for the slide project, it was decided that this new show, Forever Saul Leiter, would include a series of recently unearthed slide images, shown in a black-box projection sequence designed by Tomoya Kishimoto. Meanwhile, Elena Skarke returned to New York for a month in the fall of 2019 to continue her research.
Attending the opening of Forever Saul Leiter at Tokyo’s Bunkamura Museum of Art on January 9, 2020, Margit and I were especially proud to see the slide projections, and to watch the museum’s visitors eagerly taking them in. Although, as Margit explains in her introduction to this book, we felt a bit of trepidation in offering the first publicly displayed Leiter photographs selected by someone other than Saul himself, we believed the images were strong enough to allay any doubts and could stand alongside the previously printed early color work. And, of course, we felt that as the shepherds of the Leiter archive it was our duty, as well as our privilege, to make our discoveries public.