With apologies to those hardy few who have bought my book The Empirical Photographer, I have just posted the last essay in the book, entitled "Helen Levitt," here on TOP. The article was originally published in Camera & Dark- room magazine (the American one, which went away in 1995). The occasion was merely a show review; the illustrations originally consisted of several of her color photographs, which were new or relatively new to the public at the time.
Subsequent to that, she mailed me a postcard, which I've quoted in full at the end of the article. I think it is the best professional compliment I've ever gotten. I have the original framed.
I corresponded with Miss Levitt a number of times after that, but she really was not much interested in self-promotion. She didn't want to have to do more work with her photography than she was already doing, and she even declined to sign one of her own books for me, pronouncing it "horrible." She said she would sign my copy of Crosstown, but I never got around to sending it to her. (I think I was more concerned with not losing it than having it signed.)
I can't remember the occasion, now, but I once asked her if she would mind if I printed, in one of the magazines I was associated with, the 1959 portrait of her that Lee Friedlander took. She was having none of that, either. She said the portrait, too, was "horrible," although she said many nice things about Lee. (The picture appears in Friedlander's 1985 NYGS book Lee Friedlander Portraits, and I have visited it since her death. It is no species of horrible, although the large overexposed area will not appeal to the literal and the fastidious.) I think Miss Levitt was more genuinely camera-averse than was Henri Cartier-Bresson, who was more famous for being so; I have seen a lot more pictures of him than I have of her over the years. The one above, taken in 1963, is from her obituary in the Times.
From her art and from herself, I always had the sense of a true lovely soul.
There's a good book of her work available now. Here's a link to our review, written by Geoff Wittig.
Featured Comment by Jeff Goggin: "Today's Wall Street Journal published a nice piece about Ms. Levitt." [By the always excellent Richard B. Woodward, whose writings on photography are not always easy to find but are always worth finding. —Ed.]