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Wednesday, 14 October 2015


Yes, Crosstown is among my favorites, too, Mike. It's one of the relatively few photo books that engages me like a good novel. (Bruce Davidson's books are also in that group.)

But Helen Levitt versus Vivian Maier...hmmm. An interesting thought exercise, to be sure. They have some commonalities as well as critical differences. Honestly I'm not completely confident crowning Levitt the unqualified winner. Different times, different lives, different work. I wouldn't be at all surprised if some clever young curator manages to construct a side-by-side museum show of them one day in the future, rather like the Moriyama/Klein show at the Tate Modern a couple of years ago.

With all respect to Helen Levitt, who is certainly one of the greatest, but really, nobody, but nobody, touches Elliott Erwitt as a street photographer.

I know there's a lot to cover on TOP but here's a vote for regular photo book reviews.

I have the substantial 1991 SFMMA catalog, "Helen Levitt," as well as "Slide Show, The Color Photographs of Helen Levitt," from powerHouse Books, 2005. As much as I admire "Crosstown" and a couple of her other later books, these two provide a comprehensive cross section of her work that precludes my acquiring other titles.

Slipped between the front pages of "Slide Show" is an invitation for a 1983 reception for her exhibition "Street Portrait" at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where I was able to meet and speak with her. As I recall, she was very gracious, a dignified and (if I may so presume) courageous old lady.

Ever since I was a kid old enough to turn pages (4 or 5) I "ate" photo books from National Geographic to Life Magazine.
To say they influenced my later adult life would be an understatement.
Fortunately or unfortunately, they influenced my photography and I still "think and see" in terms of Gene Smith, David Duncan and the early street photographers such as HCB.
It is part of my psyche and I cannot escape it.
I seem to think in black and white.
I never really appreciated Helen Levitt as much as I suppose I should have, but she was not on my menu.
Only my two pesos.

I always appreciate the books to which you draw our attention. I am fortunate to live in suburban Chicago and, through the miracle of inter-library loan, have been able to get my hands on some out of print gems that I might never have otherwise seen. One of the member libraries has "Crosstown" in its collection along with other Helen Levitt books and I just reserved a few. I sometimes find myself buying books after first seeing them this way and, again, am glad you are pointing us in the direction of such great works.

Damn the hyperbole and no disrespect to Helen whatsoever, but gotta go with Vivian (and no, it's not just about the story behind her photos- her work more than adequately speaks for itself).

Helen Levitt, Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, Vivian Maier...how on Earth is it possible to choose just one as being the best? And that's just a few American street photographers. Cross the pond and we find Robert Doisneau, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Willy Ronis, Bret Hardy, Martin Parr, the list goes on and on as you tour the continents of the world.

In street photography, there is no shortage of titans.

Jack said, "[I]f forced to choose one lens, it would be the 30–90mm S zoom."

Is a zoom "one lens?"

[Sure. It's just not one focal length. --Mike]

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