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Monday, 30 March 2009

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She was a person of great vision who, though her images, taught me a lot. - Ben

"I seldom cry when people I didn't know personally pass away; this is one exception."

Me too. But I am eternally grateful for what she's left us.

Helen was one of the first photographers whose work made me want to make photographs. I think I will have to spend a couple hours on the street today. It won't matter if I get a shot.

R.I.P


I just bought my first book of hers a year ago. I hadn't seen any of her work before, but I bought it on the strong recommendation of many people. I was blown away.

It saddens me greatly that she has passed away.

As a native New Yorker, I will miss her sensitivity towards its people and her insight into its many cultures.

Altough I mourn her passing, she has left behind a legacy of work that will live forever.

When I originally studied photography, thirty years ago, I didn't take photo history. I was sort of dally-ing in photography, not thinking I would take it seriously. When I re-discovered the art, I was like a kid in a candy store, because all those great image-makers were new to me. HCB, Evans, Frank, Callahan et al. Last year, when Ms. Levitt's book came out, I discovered it through this blog. I bought a copy, and became enchanted. Thank you for introducing me to her work, Mike.

What a pity. Year before last I had the great good fortune to stumble on her show at the Cartier-Bresson museum in Paris. Wonderful, moving stuff by a photographer I'd known of from only a few images before that.

“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.”

When people try to tell me that children should not be photographed on the street by strangers, I use Helen Levitt as my argument. It's going to be very difficult for anybody to carry the torch in such a paranoid world. Mike, you said in your spring post that photography is about light. I often feel photography has entered in to the dark ages and now another light has just gone out

I think she sums up the zeitgeist of the post-modern life we are missing:

“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.”

I had hoped she would live forever.

During my junior year of college, the head of the art department gave me a copy of A Way of Seeing and it completely made me rethink the path I was on as a photographer. I too had never encountered Helen Levitt in person, but like many others, I was influenced in a way as if I had.

I must admit that I did not know about her. But I love her pictures at once after having seen just a few jpgs.

yunfat wrote:

I think she sums up the zeitgeist of the post-modern life we are missing:

“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.”

Gosh, combine that sentiment with a view of Alex MacLeans aerial photos of America and it's doubly depressing.

I'm only familiar with Helen Levitt's work through a little surfing after reading about her here. I did listen to an interview with her and she sounded refreshingly down to earth (compared to some successful pros who are quite full of themselves).

One thing that struck me in looking at some of her photos, and remembering her talk about a window of opportunity she had in photographing New York when it was the way it was ... it's easy to want things to be the way they were when these great photographers saw them and to be discouraged when we go out and photograph our comparitively ugly society today, but I think that's the whole point, to photograph what's there today and not get caught up in nostalgia. Because we can be sure, tomorrow it will be different. (Based on Alex MacLean's photos, not necessarily better, either).

Dear Dennis

I don't find society today ugly. I don't want life to be like New York of old.I just want the same freedom to photograph that Helen Levitt had. With the rights of photographers to practice their art and passions being more and more encroached upon it's becoming harder and harder to fully record contemporary life.

After reading this story at lunch time today, I did some cursory research to see more of her photos. I loved them. They made me want to see more. Then, on my way home from work, imagine my surprise when Melissa Block from NPR reported on Ms. Levitt's passing. She recounted a meeting with Levitt in 1991 and then mentioned how she later bought a print (the one with the white girl and black boy dancing in the street). If anyone is interested, here's the link to the story: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=102504602

A great photographer, & one of the giants of street photography.

Sean, I find too much of todays society prefab & plastic, with mom & pop shops & restaurants taken over by big chains. You can find exceptions, but then you're ignoring parts of it.

Anyway, I listened to the NPR piece tonight. Melissa Block played a part of the 2002 interview where she asked Ms. Levitt about the photo of 4 girls & bubbles ... "what's going on in this picture ?" to which Ms. Levitt replied "just what you see" ! How refreshing to hear that from a successful photographer ! Just what you see :)

I own Levitt's remarkable eponymous volume of photographs published by PowerHouse books and recommended on this site. In the foreword, (written in 1969), Walker Evans describes a Levitt photograph - "To anyone sensitive to dance, this picture is inebriating. It is, of course a lucky miracle of timing. But when you see an unbelievable confluence of chance in a photograph, remember that the operator was there, booted and spurred." How fortunate for us all that Levitt was there for the better part of a century, recording images of indescribable humanity.

Slightly off topic, but there is something that really annoys me in the NYT obituary of Helen Levitt. In reference to the movie 'In the Street', Margarett Loke describes it as "... antic, droll, artless and dear."

What's with the antiquated language? I've noticed this sort of writing more than once in certain north American publications. Do these writers fantasise about being contemporaries of Henry James? I'm all for having a good vocabulary, but please speak in the voice of your era.

Dennis,

Helen Levitt's response reminds me of one that Robert Frost gave when asked to explain one of his poems

"You want me to say it worse? ...

Mike,

Thanks for bringing this up. Beautiful photos.

Sean,

This isn't a rant against the USA directly, but I am of the opinion that you will never have the freedom Levitt had, at least in the USA. In other countries you are not labeled a pedophile if you happen to take a picture of a kid not your own, in the USA, home of the child predator and the puritanical police state, the innocence has been lost.

I can photograph kids all day in downtown Delhi, however, if an Indian photgrapher came to my hometown and opened up on the local kids waterpark he would be arrested in 60 seconds.

It's sad, but it's a fact, the USA is dead for photographing kids.

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