Helen Levitt, Photographer Who Captured Decades of New York Street Life, Died at at 95
Helen Levitt Died at The Age of 95
Helen Levitt, a major street photographer of the 20th century who captured fleeting moments of quiet drama on the streets of her native New York for seven decades, died in New York City at the age of 95. Ms. Levitt’s photography displayed a form of street choreography that expressed the everyday ceremonies of innocence. The masterpieces in Ms. Levitt’s body of works are her photographs of children living their enthusiastically improvised lives.
Ms. Levitt was intensely private, shunned the spotlight and seldom gave interviews. Comprehensive surveys of her career were held at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York in 1980 and later at the Laurence Miller Gallery in 1987. However, she remained relatively unknown to the general public even as late as 1991, when the first national retrospective of her work was organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and traveled to major museums.
Helen Levitt: Seven Decades of New York Street Photography
Helen Levitt’s street photography from New York spanned seven decades, photographs that were taken mostly throughout working-class neighborhoods in New York City. Levitt’s wonderfully candid black-and-white shots from the 1930s and 1940s, of urban children playing and ordinary people going about their daily lives, have inspired generations of photographers. Levitt was also a pioneer in 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.”
Video: The Photography of Helen Levitt
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