HELEN LEVITT. Street Photography in New York
Until January 27, the Albertina Museum in Vienna dedicates a retrospective to one of the exponents of street photography and chronicler of New York street life, Helen Levitt.
Curated by Walter Moser, the exhibition follows the artists development from street photographer to film maker and pioneer of color photography, with more than 130 photographs, and more than 80 slides, films and magazines on display.
Levitt (1913-2009) was born as daughter of Lithuanian immigrants in New York.
After initially working with portraits in commercial photography she dedicated herself to street photography in the poorer neighborhoods of New York in the 1930ies.
In those days she met Henri Cartier Bresson in New York who sparked her interest in Surrealism and in photography as an art form. At times she was also accompanied by photographer Walker Evans when taking pictures out in the streets of New York.
Prominent recurring subjects of her pictures are children playing in the street and ordinary citizens going about their daily business.
In these carefully composed photos with their deliberately chosen view frames the influence of Surrealism as well as the silent movie era (Levitt was a big fan of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton) become noticeable to the observer. It was not the social aspect that was paramount fort he artist (even though she was a communist), the city dwellers are rather arranged like performers in a theater play or staging of some sort of a drama.
In her color photographs later on, she maintained her choice of subjects but the composition became calmer and the contrast of colors more important.
In the late 1940ies she worked very successfully as a filmmaker (briefly even with Luis Buñuel). The Albertina shows her short film „In the Street“ in the exhibition. Her documentary about a black boy, „The Quiet One“, was nominated for an Oscar for best documentary in 1949, and a year later nominated for the best script.
As early as in 1943, Levitt had a solo exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in New York. In the late 1950ies she started working with color photography. In 1974 she had a color photography exhibition at the MoMa.
In 1991 she had a retrospective in San Francisco, in 1997 she participated in the documenta in Kassel, Germany.
In 2009, Helen Levitt passed away in her sleep in her apartment in Greenwich Village at the age of 95. (written by Cem Angeli)