"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." - Dorothea Lange

Monday, March 30, 2009

helen levitt

I feel so lucky to have been able to meet and spend a little time with the woman who has been a major inspiration for me as a photographer. I wrote about my visit with Helen Levitt here. She died last night. This is the obit a friend sent me here in Mexico. I'm not sure which paper it's from:

Born in 1913 in New York City, Helen Levitt left school to work for a commercial photographer and by 1938 had started her seminal book, In the Street: chalk drawings and messages, New York City 1938-1948.

Levitt was considered to be one of the world's greatest street photographers and the last living link with America's golden age of photography in the 1930s. Throughout her life, she worked in the streets of New York taking pictures such as her most famous one, which depicts three children preparing to go trick-or-treating on Halloween in 1939.

Levitt met Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1935 and even followed him when he photographed on the Brooklyn waterfront. She studied with Walker Evans, in 1943, had Edward Steichen curate her first show at the Museum of Modern Art. In 1955, he included some of her images in his landmark Family of Man show and, in 1959 and 1960, she received two Guggenheim Foundation grants to take colour photographs in New York.

Levitt published her first major book, A Way of Seeing, in 1965, but in other respects photobooks were a later development for her. In the Street wasn't published until 1987, and her magnum opus, Crosstown, didn't hit the shelves until 2001. Slide Show, the Colour Photographs of Helen Levitt, which collected together her little-known colour work, was published in 2005.

Last year, Powerhouse Books published her last monograph, which saw Levitt handpick the eclectic mix of iconic and previously unpublished images, making this book her 'greatest hits' collection of personal bests.

Levitt died in her sleep in New York on Sunday.

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