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Wednesday, 01 April 2009


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Both Miss Levitt and Eudora Welty, (whose pictures made in the South are similar in character), have said that it would not be possible to make those images in today's climite of racial and gender hostility.
It's certainly too bad, but at least we have their work to enjoy and appreciate.

Wow...I love the postcard she sent you. There's no doubt she meant every word of it.

That's a lovely (and very appropriate) piece of writing. Really conveys some feelings. And receiving the postcard must have warmed for a week or two.


Eh? You wrote a book? What is it about? Is it any good? As good a read as your unparalleled...er...blog?

Mike–that's a great piece... I'll have to go and buy your book for more like it. The structure is very elegant, the conclusion perfect. You've given a great sense of the particular feeling in her work, so much so that I think Ms. Levitt's praise is just.

It's always wonderful to see writing so driven by a deep appreciation for, and resonance with, its subject.

Mike, I suspect you treasure that postcard as much as Melissa Block does her experience of interviewing Helen:

NPR Levitt Essay

In my opinion, both of you did good work and were fortunate to be touched by her.

Helen Levitt was absolutely right about you,you are a very good writer,amongst other things too!

Here's a link to the last interview with her.


The Helen Levitt essay is magical and the postcard the perfect finish. The PowerHouse book will be my next buy.

"Eh? You wrote a book? What is it about? Is it any good? As good a read as your unparalleled...er...blog?"

G, and ben,
It was a star-crossed project from first to last. I was greatly amused when a reader sent me to a link on a German auction site recently that featured a signed copy of the book (all the early shipments--well, early, that's the wrong term--were signed) for 158 Euros! Odd, since you can still get it for a fraction of that.

I urge people NOT to buy it, though. I really need to do a second edition, and when I get that finished I will advertise it here on TOP. I have the cover done (it's, er, around here someplace) and there will be several new essays added as well. And it will be available in hardback as well as softcover. So don't buy the first edition just yet, there's a better version coming.


But that first edition becomes a collectible "vintage" printing. Perhaps that 158 Euro bidder was merely ahead of the curve.

That is a beautiful essay, Mike. A wonderful homage, not only to Ms Levitt, but to the power of art. Thank you for sharing it.

You also wrote a wonderful piece the other day on spring light. It tickled me because I'd just been out shooting on a day that perfectly illustrated your point: a damp overcast morning, an almost harshly bright sunny afternoon that lasted into golden hour, followed by an eery yellow gloom that accompanied hailstorms and a tornado.

Wow, Mike, that's one hell of a good piece. I can see why it was one of her favorites. The photo you included with it is graceful indeed. Once again, you've introduced me to another photographer whose work I should clearly know.


Agreed, your essay was a fine review and serves now as a kind and poignant eulogy to a brilliant, unique artist. Thanks, also, to the commenter who pointed out Richard Woodward's excellent obituary for Helen Levitt in The Wall Street Journal.

As thoughtful as these pieces are, my favorite of all was the second comment following Woodward's obit, referring to the nine-photo slideshow posted by the WSJ:

"Not very impressive collection, RIP but I doubt she will be remember in two weeks."

I laughed so hard. Helen Levitt was a treasure. Her vision (and memory) will continue to be an inspiration for multitudes of thoughtful photographers.

I've always been curious about the theft of her early colour images. Does anyone know why they were stolen? Who steals film? Was it part of a general burglary or was her film the particular target? Anyway it'd be nice if they turn up one day & we get to see the lost Levitt's

I'm just going from memory here, but I believe she had taken the slides to a museum to show to some curators, and was on her way back home to Greenwich Village with the slides in a paper grocery sack, and she got mugged. She and her friends posted appeals around the neighborhood for the work's return and searched dumpsters and trash cans within a wide area of the spot of the mugging but the lost slides were never found. It represented about a year's work, as I recall. Again, I'm just going from memory, so don't take this as gospel.


I delayed reading this until I had a little more time. Today was a good day, especially as I bought a copy of the current Helen Levitt book. I had seen the book in a shop in Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago and dithered. I was back again today and made no such mistake. I even considered a second "investment" copy, but figured that would be selfish and greedy.

I really enjoyed your essay which I think stands as a good accompaniment to the to photographs - should have been the book's foreword IMO. when I read Miss Levitt's response, it literally made my spine tingle.

Spending my first brief time with the pictures I note two immediate reactions. First, the black and white has a subtlety of tone and contrast that gives a sort of understated, sympathetic feeling. These are not typical high-contrast, shouty monochromes: a hark back to much earlier work.
Second is that the colour photographs each appear to be two photographs super-imposed. There is a quality that is very much about colour in the urban environment - balances and well observed juxtaposition. The second is the observed behaviour that could just as easily be from her black and white work. I can't remember seeing a collection of colour work that had the ability to consistently offer multi-facets in such a way.

There is a 1940s image by Helen Levitt in amongst a group of images from a 2007 Paris
Show. I've not seen it before.

It is shown on the wonderful site. Lensculture, in the archives section.


Its on the 10th row down of the thumbnails, it's worth searching for!

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