INSIDE THE WORLD OF HELEN LEVITT
Galerie Thomas Zander is delighted to present a comprehensive exhibition of more than 150 works by the renowned American photographer Helen Levitt, in collaboration with the artist’s estate. Levitt‘s œuvre is a testament to her great passion for street photography and represents a highly influential contribution to photography in the 20th century.
Helen Levitt (1913-2009) began her lifelong exploration of photography in the 1930s in her native city of New York. Among her early mentors were Henri Cartier-Bresson as well as Walker Evans, whom she helped to print the works for his seminal 1938 exhibition American Photographs. Levitt’s own photographs were featured in the inaugural exhibition of the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1940s, and only three years later the MoMA mounted her first solo exhibition titled Photographs of Children. From the beginning, Helen Levitt dedicated her work to the life in the streets of New York and primarily took her camera to the less privileged areas like Spanish Harlem and the Lower East Side. Here she found her subjects in the quotidian interactions and encounters between people, the improvised games of children, the chalk graffiti, and for a later series in the subway that she portrays as a microcosm of the many faces of New York City.
Levitt’s photography merges documentation and poetry into an aesthetics of the streets. Her gelatin silver prints are recognized as unsentimental images of urban America, characterized by Walker Evans as “anti-journalism”. The photographs represent the citizens of the metropolis with particular empathy and authenticity, while at the same time exposing the American Dream as a perpetual myth. The scenes are observed with sensitivity and an unerring sense of visual humor. Yet they are always captured from a respectful distance, nothing is staged or arranged. In 1959 and 1960 Levitt received Guggenheim Foundation fellowships, and subsequently turned her attention to color photography, becoming one of the firsts artists to incorporate color into her work. From the 1970s and 1980s on, high quality dye transfer prints were produced of her photographs that have a striking intensity. Levitt’s color work is also on view in the present exhibition. It seems as immediate as her black and white images, but also reflects that times had changed by then, and people’s private lives had become less visible in the street.
Helen Levitt's work is in the collections of numerous museums and institutions worldwide. She was the recipient of three Guggenheim Foundation fellowships, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, a Master of Photography Award of the International Center of Photography New York, a Spectrum International Photography Award of the Stiftung Niedersachsen, and an Oscar nomination as co-author of the script for the 1948 film The Quiet One. Levitt’s work has been exhibited internationally since the 1940s until today, 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; Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam; Sprengel Museum Hanover; the Albertina, Vienna; the Photographer’s Gallery in London; and most recently at the Foundation A Stichting in Brussels, Belgium.
LISTEN TO HELEN LEVITT ON NPR:
Helen Levitt's Indelible Eye, 17 Jan 2002
Helen Levitt Captured Perfect Moments, 30 Mar 2009