Monday, July 25, 2011

DOCUMENTARY EXPRESSIONALISM




Vale Helen Levitt, 1963
From newartlook.com


Vale Helen Levitt, 1918-Born in New York City, is a documentary photographer known for her images of urban street life. She began her career in the mid-1930s, inspired by the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Walker Evans. In 1936 she purchased a 35mm Leica (the same type of camera used by Cartier-Bresson) and by the following year was photographing people on the streets of New York, particularly children in the city's poor and working-class neighborhoods.
(Vangobot at popartmachine.com)


New York
Laurence Miller Gallery
From parfum de bohème at blogg.org


Boy Drawing on a Sidewalk, 1937
From britannica.com


Räume der Stadt, 1939
From raeume-der-stadt.de


New York, 1942
Gelatin silver print on paper
Smithsonian American Art Museum
From americanart.si.edu


In Ms. Levitt’s best-known picture, above, three properly dressed children prepare to go trick-or-treating on Halloween. Standing on the stoop outside their house, they are in almost metaphorical stages of readiness. The girl on the top step is putting on her mask; a boy near her, his mask in place, takes a graceful step down, whiles another boy, also masked, lounges on a lower step, coolly surveying the world.
(MARGARETT LOKE at nytimes.com)
From 1938-41 Levitt worked with Evans on a series made in New York's subways, and in July 1939 her first published image appeared in Fortune magazine. By the early 1940s her photographs were also being reproduced in U.S. Camera, PM's Weekly, Minicam, and Harper's Bazaar. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, featured her images of children in a one-person show in 1943 and three years later awarded her a photography fellowship.
In the 1940s Levitt also became involved with film, assisting director Luis Buñuel in editing documentary footageand working as an assistant editor in the Film Division of the Office of War Information (1944-45). Encouraged by writer James Agee, Levitt began directing films in the late 1940s. She worked with Janice Loeb and Sidney Meyers in 1949 on The Quiet One, a feature-length documentary about a home for delinquent boys, and in 1951 made In the Street with Agee and Loeb.
During the 1950s she concentrated primarily on film, producing very little still photography. In 1959-60 Levitt was awarded fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation to explore color photography and began shooting 35mm color slides of street scenes and children. Her color slides were included in a three-person exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1963, and in 1974 her color images were featured in a solo exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Levitt''s work was included in numerous one-person exhibitions throughout the 1970s-80s, and in 1992 was the subject of a major retrospective organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Levitt lives in New York. M.M.
(Vangobot at popartmachine.com)
She realised from conversations with Cartier-Bresson that photography could be an art form in itself and did not always have to be about social justice. Levitt was soon recognised for capturing what the French photographer called "the decisive moment" and her first major solo exhibition followed, at MoMA, in 1943. The show, Helen Levitt: Photographs Of Children, curated by Edward Steichen, reflected a city of children playing outside in the streets. This was a time before the advent of television and air conditioning in New York, a world where people lived and worked on the pavements, which became their living rooms.
(newartlook.com)
Levitt was born in Brooklyn, New York, where her Russian-Jewish father ran a wholesale knitwear business. Rather than complete high school, she learned developing and printing in the studio of a commercial portrait photographer. From the beginning of her career, Levitt's work attracted considerable critical attention. She started studying with Evans in 1938, aged 19, and was early on compared with Dorothea Lange and other documentary photographers employed by the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression.
Yet she was keen to develop her own style and techniques. As soon as she saw an exhibition of Henri Cartier-Bresson's work at the Julien Levy gallery in New York, she decided to move on from the large-view cameras then in favour to Cartier-Bresson's 35mm Leica, with its right-angle sights. (At times, she even resorted to using a prism lens to disguise her focus to her subjects.)
She also favoured working in the midst of city life. Levitt greatly preferred using available light and loved movement; she would harness water, windows, even - memorably, in a group shot of girls blowing soap - bubbles, to serve as prisms refracting both. And she developed the particular skill of using a friendly and unobtrusive manner to persuade children to ignore her or show off. Images of them beating the heat under a spouting street-corner water hydrant, or lined up in outsized masks to go trick-or-treating for Halloween are black-and-white period classics of apparently natural and playful pleasures.
(hoohoohouse.com)


New York, 1945
sale of Phillips de Pury & Company New York
From artnet.com


Helen Levitt''s long and distinguished career reflects her ability to create lyrical compositions from the commonplace events of New York street life. Her black-and-white work from the 1940s depicts life in working-class and slum neighborhoods, revealingmoments of joy, sadness, reverie, tenderness, work, and play. Her casual, non-intrusive style is evident in this example. With remarkable intuition and technical skill, she created an evocative image that is neither idealizing nor cynical, but simply reveals the love between mother and child.
(Vangobot at popartmachine.com)
In 1959 Levitt began to work in colour, her eye informed both by natural contrasts and unexpected affinities. Given the variability of colour-film processing, she was brave to persist and establish herself as - in the words of Peter Galassi, senior photography curator at Moma - "a pioneer".
From the start, she contributed regularly to Harper's Bazaar, Time and Fortune, the major colour magazines of their day, as well as the New York Post. She had gone beyond the iconography of street photography and no longer focused predominantly on people as her subjects.
Images that spring to mind include two speckled hens marching past two red-and-white speckled chairs on the pavement outside a furnishing store; or the brilliant pinks and greens of a street chariot selling "snowballs" - ice shavings topped with vividly highlighted syrups - surreally situated in front of a tilting phone box and with a disembodied hand extending a luminous ice-cone into the frame of the picture. Unexpected angles, when objects move in and out of the field of vision, are far more characteristic of her work than an enclosed view.
(hoohoohouse.com)


Boy with Bubble
From brooklynmuseum.org


Helen Levitt's photograph of two children on a New York street is a wonderful example of her prolific engagement with street life. The capacity to transform the documentary into poetry, to interpret a scene on the street from a humanistic perspective and give it a new meaning, is a key feature of Brooklyn-born Levitt's lifelong photographic practice, always more artistic than journalistic.
The seemingly simple structure of this image reveals a skillful sense of composition. The graffiti and the many layers of advertisements on the back wall echo the black scribbles on the face of the boy on the left, his vertically striped pants juxtaposed with the horizontal bands of the wall in the background. Quietly and full of concentration, he is gazing at the other boy, slightly out of focus, carefully handling a bubble.
(brooklynmuseum.org)


New York, 1972
New York Public Library
From alex-hedi...urnal.com


Ms. Levitt stopped making her own black and white prints in the 1990s, she said, because of sciatica, which prevented her from standing for long. The sciatica also made carrying the heavy Leica difficult, and in recent years she used a small automatic Contax. She had other health problems. Her lungs were scarred by a near-fatal bout of pneumonia in the 1940s or ’50s, she said. And she was born with Meniere’s syndrome, an inner-ear disorder. “I have felt wobbly all my life,” she said.
Changes in neighborhood life also affected her work. “I go where there’s a lot of activity,” she said. “Children used to be outside. Now the streets are empty. People are indoors looking at television or something.”
(MARGARETT LOKE at nytimes.com)


New York, 1988
From argusvlinder.web-log.nl


In later years, Levitt, always fiercely defensive of her private life, refrained from attending launches of her work or giving interviews about it - although she did emerge to speak to the New York Times in 2002, and seemed as curious as ever about the world outside. She believed in letting the work speak for itself, which seemed to inspire writers to poetic heights in describing it.
(hoohoohouse.com)
Despite her accomplishments, Helen remained the same Brooklyn girl all her life. She never moved out of New York City and remained active in photography for almost 70 years. She passed away in 2009 at the age of 95. Unfortunately, Helen didn’t get the fame she deserved during her lifetime, but she did get the respect due her for her grind.
(missomnimedia.com)

Note: I found these images (above) from all over the web. If you own a photo’s copyright and think this page violates Fair Use, please contact me.


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