Helen Levitt’s street photography from New York spans seven decades, photographs taken mostly throughout working-class neighborhoods in New York. Levitt’s wonderfully candid black-and-white shots from the 1930s and 1940s, of urban kids playing and ordinary people going about their lives, have inspired generations of photographers.
Levitt was a pioneer of color photography, starting seriously in 1959, when she received a Guggenheim grant to explore her familiar territory, but shifting from black-and-white to color. Levitt went back out into the streets in the 1970s with her camera. Forty of her color photographs were shown as a slide show at the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1974, one of the very first times that photographs were formally displayed this way in a museum, and one of the first exhibitions of serious color photography anywhere in the world. That show was presented 31 years after her first solo exhibition at MoMA in 1943. Her work was also part of the famous Family of Man exhibition.
The acclaimed writer James Agee once said: “At least a dozen of Helen Levitt’s photographs seem to me as beautiful, perceptive, satisfying, and enduring as any lyrical work that I know. In their general quality and coherence, moreover, the photographs as a whole body, as a book, seem to me to combine into a unified view of the world, an uninsistent but irrefutable manifesto of a way of seeing, and in a gently and wholly unpretentious way, a major poetic work.”
Helen Levitt: Seven Decades of New York Street Photography
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