Through A Lens: Saul Leiter & Todd Haynes’ Carol at Somerset House

Todd Haynes’ movie Carol, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel The Price Of Salt, is currently attracting critical plaudits and tipped for a haul of Oscars. The film’s story of a deepening relationship between a young woman in her 20s working in a Manhattan department store during the Christmas season, who meets an alluring woman trapped in a loveless marriage, is complemented by a visual style which evokes 1950s New York and which was directly inspired by the work of the New York street photographer Saul Leiter. Haynes and cintematographer Ed Lachman made use of Leiter’s work in researching the look and feel of the movie.

Studiocanal and London’s Somerset House have now joined forces to mark the film’s release with an exhibition of Leiter’s work that makes this influence clear.

Leiter made an enormous and unique contribution to photography with a highly prolific period in New York City in the 1940s and 50s. His abstracted forms and radically innovative compositions have a painterly quality that stands out among the work of his New York School contemporaries. Well-known for his pioneering work with colour, Leiter’s earliest black and white photographs also show an extraordinary affinity for the medium. His distinctive imagery stems from his profound and touching response to the dynamic street life of New York City. Taking a more unhurried approach than many of his contemporaries to the hectic energy of the Manhattan streets, mostly in and around his own East Village neighbourhood, his images are complex and impressionistic, concerned with evoking an atmosphere. Often they take an oblique approach, photographing people through windows or hazily reflected in them. Though he worked successfully as a fashion photographer, published in Show, British Vogue, Esquire and Harper’s Bazaar, the significance of his work would only be fully appreciated by critics and curators when the photographer was in his 80s, with an exhibition at the Foundation Henri Cartier-Bresson in Paris in 2008 and a documentary film in 2013, before Leiter’s death in November that year.

Through A Lens: Saul Leiter And Carol; Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 1LA; Until 10 January.

Explore the show at www.somersethouse.org.uk.

Carol is out now on general release.

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Credits
1. Still from Todd Haynes’ Carol, 2015.