Published by Walther König/Film Documents LLC. Text by James Agee.
Ever since it was first published in 1965, Helen Levitt’s collection of photographs taken on the streets of 1940s New York City has been revered as a classic of its genre. Made in collaboration with writer James Agee, who provided the book’s introduction, A Way of Seeing was published twice more with modifications during Levitt’s lifetime. This volume seeks to provide a definitive edition of the book with oversight from Levitt’s former assistant Marvin Hoshino, who has taken pains to include the best available prints and negatives of Levitt’s images.
Returned to its original compact size, this edition contains all 50 original photographs in addition to several other images meant to represent Levitt’s later understanding of herself as an artist and visual storyteller. Levitt’s photography has stood the test of time and now provides compelling insight into the daily lives of New York’s youngest denizens long after they have grown up.
Helen Levitt (1913-2009) learned the art of film development as a teenager working for a commercial portrait photographer in the Bronx. In the mid-1930s, she began to establish her own style of street photography, taking a particular interest in children who turned city sidewalks into their own personal playgrounds and art studios. A lifelong New Yorker, Levitt continued photographing urban life for nearly 70 years, during which she garnered attention from the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim. In addition to her photography, she worked for many years with James Agee and Janice Loeb on documentary films.
Published by The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Text by Shamoon Zamir.
Helen Levitt’s (1913-2009) photographs from the 1930s and 1940s of the communities of New York City’s Harlem are startling achievements of street photography. They catch the evanescent configurations of gesture, movement, pose and expression that make visible the street as surreal theater, and everyday life as art and mystery. The unguarded life of children at play became, understandably, Levitt’s particular preoccupation.
Levitt resisted political readings of her work, and distanced herself from the progressive impulses of social documentary photography. But class, race and gender are everywhere at work in Levitt’s images. The diffidence and deceptive artlessness of the images also hide her devotion to both popular and avant-garde cinema, attention to the work of other photographers and frequenting of New York’s museums and galleries. Here, Shamoon Zamir, Professor of Literature and Art History at New York University Abu Dhabi, examines the different registers and contexts of Levitt’s work through a reading of New York, one of Levitt’s iconic images.
Published by Walther König, Köln. Edited by Marvin Hoshino, Thomas Zander. Introduction by David Campany.
In 1938 Helen Levitt (1913–2009) accompanied Walker Evans on a project to photograph passengers on the New York subway. Soon she was taking her own pictures. More empathetic and informal than Evans’, Levitt’s finest photographs are the product of her willingness to participate as a fellow citizen, not as a photographer setting herself apart. The disarming ease of Levitt’s pictures quickly accrues into an undeniably singular attitude to both the medium and the world.
Around 1978—a full four decades after her first foray—Levitt returned to the New York subway, by which time public behavior on the subway was visibly less formal. She seems to have picked up exactly where she had left off in 1938, but in general her photography was even less restricted—more in keeping with her looser street photographs. This is the most comprehensive publication of Helen Levitt’s photographs from the New York subway, many of which are published here for the first time.