During the early 1940's Helen Levitt made many photographs on the streets of New York. Her photographs were not intended to tell a story or document a social thesis; she worked in poor neighborhoods because there were people there, and a street life that was richly sociable and visually interesting.
Levitt's pictures report no unusual happenings; most of them show the games of children, the errands and conversations of the middle-aged, and the observant waiting of the old. What is remarkable about the photographs is that these immemorially routine acts of life, practiced everywhere and always, are revealed as being full of grace, drama, humor, pathos, and surprise, and also that they are filled with the qualities of art, as though the street were a stage, and its people were all actors and actresses, mimes, orators, and dancers.
Some might look at these photographs today, and, recognizing the high art in them, wonder what has happened to the quality of common life. The question suggests that Levitt's pictures are an objective record of how things were in New York's neighborhoods in the 1940's.
This is one possible explanation. Perhaps the children have forgotten how to pretend with style, and the women how to gossip and console, and the old how to oversee. Alternatively, perhaps the world that these pictures document never existed at all, except in the private vision of Helen Levitt, whose sense of the truth discovered those thin slices of fact that, laid together, create fantasy.
from "Looking at Photographs" by John Szarkowski
In Helen Levitt, released in conjunction with a retrospective exhibition at Germany's Sprengel Museum Hannover, the esteemed photographer presents her most iconic works, intermixed with never-before-seen color work. Combining seven decades of New York City street life with her seminal work in Mexico City, Helen Levitt features the master works of an incomparable career.
"All over the city on streets and walks and walls the children....have established ancient, essential and ephemeral forms of art, have set forth in chalk and crayon the names and images of their pride, love, preying, scorn, desire.... The Lady in this House is Nuts....Lois I have gone up the street. Don't forget to bring your skates....Ruby loves Max but Max hates Ruby....And drawings, all over, of....ships, homes....western heroes....and monsters ....which each strong shower effaces."
World-renowned for her iconic black-and-white street photographs, New York City’s visual poet laureate Helen Levitt also possessed a little-known archive of color work, which was been collected for the first time in Slide Show, her third powerHouse Books monograph.
"A Way of Seeing" was Helen Levitt's first published collection of photographs and features 50 incredible gravure plates of her pictures taken on the streets of Yorkville, Harlem and the Lower East Side.
- Since I'm inarticulate, I express myself with images.