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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Helen Levitt

Dates:  1913, 31 August - 2009, 29 March
Born:  US, NY, New York
Died:  US, NY, New York
Active:  US
 
  
American street life photographer - particularly in the poorer districts of New York.

Preparing biographies


Biography provided by Focal Press 
  
By the time she turned sixteen, Levitt decided to become a professional photographer having learned darkroom practice from her job assisting a Bronx portrait photographer. Influenced by Walker Evans, with whom she studied (1938–1939), and by the work of Cartier-Bresson, Levitt purchased a Leica camera (with a right angle finder) to be a surreptitious photographer of street life. Her most notable work captures the parade of human comedy and mini-drama on the streets of New York, especially children at play. She was given her first solo exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) by the Newhalls in 1946. She had work published in Fortune, Harper’s Bazaar, Time, and PM Weekly. James Agee became an admirer of her work and collaborated on two films and a book with Levitt. She is also known for her pioneer work using still color transparencies beginning in the late 1950s after more than a decade as a film maker. With the exception of images made in Mexico (1941), Levitt’s photographs provide a candid, apolitical, look at the ebb and flow of life in her beloved New York — sidewalks, vacant lots, tenement stoops inhabited by children who paid no attention to the dark clad woman with the quiet, but omniscient little camera. She taught at Pratt Institute in the mid-1970s. 
  
(Author: Ken White - Rochester Institute of Technology) 
  
Michael Peres (Editor-in-Chief), 2007, Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 4th edition, (Focal Press) [ISBN-10: 0240807405, ISBN-13: 978-0240807409] 
(Used with permission) 
  

Further research

 
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Bill Jay
Helen Levitt 
[Photographers] 
n.d.
 
  
Family history 
  
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch. 
  
alan@luminous-lint.com
 
  
 
  

Visual indexes

 
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Internet biographies

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Wikipedia has a biography of this photographer.Show on this siteGo to website
Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online (www.groveart.com) has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
Show on this siteGo to website
The Cleveland Museum of Art, USA has a biography on this photographer. [Scroll down the page on this website as the biography may not be immediately visible.]Show on this siteGo to website
 

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

 
• Auer, Michele & Michel 1985 Encyclopedie Internationale Des Photographes de 1839 a Nos Jours / Photographers Encylopaedia International 1839 to the present (Hermance, Editions Camera Obscura) 2 volumes [A classic reference work for biographical information on photographers.] 
  
• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.214 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
  
• Capa, Cornell (ed.) 1984 The International Center of Photography: Encyclopedia of Photography (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc. - A Pound Press Book) p.302-303 
  
• Coke, Van Deren with Diana C. Du Pont 1986 Photography: A Facet of Modernism (New York: Hudson Hills Press, The San Francisco Museum of Art) p.177 
  
• Evans, Martin Marix (Executive ed.) 1995 Contemporary Photographers [Third Edition] (St. James Press - An International Thomson Publishing Company) [Expensive reference work but highly informative.] 
  
• International Center of Photography 1999 Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection (New York: A Bulfinch Press Book) p.221 [Includes a well written short biography on Helen Levitt with example plate(s) earlier in book.] 
  
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Helen Levitt.] 
  
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.183 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 
  
 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

 
• Lahs-Gonzales, Olivia & Lippard, Lucy 1997 Defining Eye: Women Photographers of the 20th Century. Selections from the Helen Kornblum Collection (Saint Louis Art Museum, D.A.P.) [Helen Levitt is included in this overview of women photographers.] 
  
• Szarkowski, John 1973 Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art (New York: The Museum of Modern Art) p.138 [Analyzes a single photograph by Helen Levitt.] 
  
 
  
 
  
 
  
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