Photographer Saul Leiter has a client list that reads like any acclaimed fashion photographer – Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and Esquire – but you’ve probably never heard of him. And he prefers it that way. Saul’s innovative style, which he perfected in the 50s, could have landed him alongside the fashion photography greats of our time but instead, by his own admission, he’d rather sit in his apartment, drink coffee and work in ‘his own way’, amassing stacks of beautiful imagery.
But when director Tomas Leach came across one of Saul’s books, Early Color, he was adamant that the world should know about this hidden diamond, now in his 80s, and after pestering Saul for the best part of a year and a half, he agreed to be the subject of Tomas’ documentary film – In No Great Hurry. The film will have its television debut on BBC4 later this year, but before then we catch up with director Tomas to find out why this was one project he just couldn’t let slip away.
WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR THE FILM?
I got a copy of Early Color when it came out and I was blown away by Saul’s work. It’s so fresh, so beautiful and so mysterious all at the same time. I tried to do some research about him, but there was almost nothing, which I found intriguing, so I got in touch with his gallery and suggested doing an interview. They suggested I send old work to show Saul, which I did and after a while, they told me that if I was in New York he would have coffee with me. So I flew over to have coffee with Saul. When I turned up at his apartment he answered the door with the words ‘why do people always want things from me…’ And turned back indoors, leaving me standing on the doorstep, unsure what to do. I followed him in and we got in really well. He said he was open to the idea of making a film with me.
WHAT WAS THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF MAKING IT?
Making the film a balanced, nuanced film about Saul and editing it down to a good length – there were so many stories I had to leave out!
HOW HAS THE FILM BEEN RECEIVED, WHAT’S BEEN YOUR HIGHLIGHT?
People seem to be enjoying the film so far. And people laugh, which is really important to me. Saul is funny and I wanted the film to reflect that.
For the film it’ll be screening on BBC4 in the UK, in selected cinema all over the place and then on DVD. And for me it’s some commercial projects before I slowly gear up for the next feature documentary.
In No Great Hurry will air on BBC4 later this year. For more information visit the film’s website.