Helen Levitt

(Brooklyn, New York, 1913 - 2009)

North America, American

As a child Helen Levitt dreamed of becoming an artist, but became discouraged by her lack of drawing ability. Her desire did not fade, and when Levitt dropped out of high school, she went to work for a commercial photographer. Soon Levitt was taking photographs of her own, looking for subjects with social meaning. For many photographers in the 1930s, this meant documenting instances of social injustice. Levitt, however, chose to spend the majority of her career capturing poetic moments in time. Her candid images of playing children in working-class New York City neighborhoods proved enormously influential to the burgeoning field of street photography.

Among her many friends and colleagues in the New York art world, photographers Walker Evans and Henri Cartier-Bresson had the strongest influence on Levitt’s work. Levitt credited Evans, with whom she shared a dark room for much of her career, for teaching her how to be inconspicuous while photographing and to avoid sentimentality. Levitt is also an early pioneer of color photography. Beginning in 1959, when Levitt was awarded a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation, Levitt explored dye transfer processes, which she continued to adapt for the next two decades, creating countless images of startling vibrancy.

Levitt’s first solo exhibition, 'Photographs of Children', was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1943; she subsequently exhibited widely and internationally. Major retrospectives of her work include exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California, which travelled to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, in 1991; the International Center for Photography, New York City, in 1997; and the Centre National la Photographie, Paris, in 2001. In 2008 Levitt was the recipient of the Francis Greenburger Award for Excellence in the Arts.

New York, United States

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