I remember several years ago looking at a photograph by William Klein (can’t remember which one it was) and thinking that here was an answer to the literalism that limited my own efforts in photography.
In this particular photo there was something so close to the camera lens that it was rendered indistinguishable as a subject. Instead, this shape became a design element within the picture frame. To me it seemed like Klein was treating reality like a sculptor would a piece of clay, shaping it, instead of simply accepting it as a given and respectfully centering a frame around it.
Then there’s Saul Leiter’s color street work from the ’40s and ’50s. He uses color — and the way that color film renders light — as a shapable object. Roberta Smith’s 2005 review of a Leiter exhibition at Howard Greenberg Gallery captures the strategy.
In a field as cliche-ridden and seemingly played-out as street photography is, what Leiter did is revelatory.
Maybe it’s because he also paints that he’s able to see and organize color as he does (and as those who pursue only photography often do not). Design Observer recently published an essay on his paintings (there’s an upcoming exhibit of the paintings, in New York).