Helen Levitt (1913-2009) began photographing street scenes in her native city of New York in the late 1930s. Her photographs capture the life of the urban setting and especially of the children playing in the streets. In the mid 1930s, Levitt met Henri Cartier-Bresson and Walker Evans and she helped Evans make prints for his famous show American Photographs in 1938. She showed him her early black and white photographs of children with their improvised games and chalk drawings and he described the lyrical style of her work as “anti-journalistic”. Helen Levitt took her camera to the city’s poorer neighborhoods, like Spanish Harlem and the Lower East Side, where people treated their streets as their living rooms and where she showed an unerring sense and empathy for the mystery and wry humor of everyday life.

In 1940, Levitt’s photographs were part of the inaugural exhibition of the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Three years later, the museum also mounted her first solo exhibition, titled Photographs of Children. In the course of her artistic career, Levitt also paid great attention to the medium of film, working as an editor and director in the 1950s, after she met Surrealist filmmaker and painter Luis Buñuel. She received prestigious Guggenheim Foundation awards in 1959 and 1960, upon which she began to experiment with color photography and created pioneering art in the field. Her color photographs are as direct and unsentimental as her early black and white work, but also reflected that times had changed and people’s private lives had become less visible in the streets.

Helen Levitt's work is in the collections of numerous international museums and institutions, is regularly seen in solo and group exhibitions worldwide, and has been the subject of retrospective exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris, France, Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam, Netherlands, Sprengel Museum Hanover, Germany and the Albertina, Vienna, Austria.


Helen Levitt's Indelible Eye, 17 Jan 2002

Helen Levitt Captured Perfect Moments, 30 Mar 2009