Helen Levitt became a photographer in the late 1930’s when she saw the work of Henri Cartier Bresson and Walker Evans at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. By 1943 she had had her own show at the Modern. There she exhibited some of the most extraordinary 35mm images ever made by a street photographer. The current exhibition will feature photographs from that period as well as color images from the 1970’s.
Working in poorer neighborhoods of New York, Helen Levitt has attentively watched and recorded our ongoing process of dealing with the world and ourselves. Her extraordinarily busy characters go about their business- children playing, adults gossiping, old people fondling infants. Their actions are revealed as being full of grace, humor and pathos, as though the street were a stage and its people were all dancers, mimes and orators.
For a variety of reasons, Levitt stopped photographing for over two decades. The one photographic project she did undertake, a Guggenheim grant, was stolen from her car in 1959. But during much of the fifties, she was active in film-making, as co-maker of “The Quiet One” and “In the Street”. The latter is a renowned documentary made with Janice Loeb and James Agee. Yet when Levitt did return to the neighborhoods of the Lower East Side and Spanish Harlem in the 1970’s, she went to photograph in color. Her new characters are as vital as the ones of the 1940’s, and are beautifully gestural as they lean out their windows or carry groceries home. Helen Levitt continues to live in Greenwich Village and photograph on the streets of New York.