Helen Levitt: 1913-2009

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Untitled (broken mirror), Helen Levitt, New York, c.1940/all photos: Laurence Miller Gallery

Untitled (broken mirror), Helen Levitt, New York, c.1940/all photos: Laurence Miller Gallery

Helen Levitt was one of the pivotal figures of American street photography. Though she often photographed kids at play, it was without sentimentality. If anything she had a way of making you feel like they were signposts of the secret life of the city, doing their mysterious thing while the adult world bustled by unawares. Likewise her many pictures of graffiti, unusual at the time, which look like messages from the collective unconscious.

Untitled (5 cent head), New York, c. 1938

Untitled (5 cent head), New York, c. 1938

I thought of her again just a few weeks ago when I posted about the neglected photos of Homer Page. It was obvious that Levitt was somebody whose work he’d been looking at when he set out to make his own essays on New York street life. (Something I should have mentioned at the time.) But of course it would be. Any smart photographer in the 1940s who was trying to get a feel for the city would have turned to her as a model. And I’ll bet you they always will.

Untitled (girl/green car), New York, 1980

Untitled (girl/green car), New York, 1980

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