Best of the Best: Helen Levitt

3

"Since I'm inarticulate, I express myself with images." – Helen Levitt

Helen Levitt (August 31, 1913 – March 29, 2009)

Helen Levitt, an American photographer, was a pioneer in contemporary and street photography, particularly in the busy streets of classic New York. She acquired an inconspicuous secondhand Leica camera during the 1930’s. From then on, she photographed the visually interesting and poignant drama of her working class neighborhood. For over 60 years, she documented the unmediated spontaneity and created a remarkable retrospective of how things were in New York’s alleyways.

From the 1930s until the 1940s, she candidly captured her subjects in black and white. Children became her muses and she took photos of them playing happy-go-luckily along the curbs. Levitt enjoyed taking pictures in gritty streets and this made her urban photography more appealing, more striking. She also photographed “concerned” gossiping ladies and menacing men in zoot suits.

Come 1959, Levitt shifted to color photography. But her photographs’ theme remained the same: her wonderfully warm urban snapshots still stole the spotlight. Unfortunately, most of her works in the 1970s were lost when a burglar stole her color prints and transparencies. The coloured pictures below were the only ones left.

Along with her passion for black & white and color photography, Levitt also fell in love with filmmaking and made a number of notable films. Her works were published in two books, Helen Levitt and A Way of Seeing. Just two years ago, she passed away in her apartment in New York. She was 95. Her photographs may portray only ordinary scenes but all of them reveal extraordinary gaiety and pathos. These serve as windows for us to see how things used to be much simpler and surprising.

All photographs in this article are from atgetphotography.com, laurencemillergallery.com, and masters-of-photography.com.

Which of these Helen Levitt photographs strike your liking the most? What other classic urban photographers would you like to be written about? Read more about the Best of the Best Series.

basterda is a member of the Lomography team in Manila. She has been dealing with your Customer Service concerns since August of 2010 and is now also contributing to the magazine. Influential Photographs is also one of her ongoing series for the Lifestyle section.

written by basterda on 2011-03-31 in #lifestyle #classic #new-york #photographers #black-and-white #color #helen-levitt

3 Comments

  1. tveden
    tveden ·

    Nice article. Her photos are very cool.

  2. creative_epi
    creative_epi ·

    This article is exactly what I needed to start the day :)

  3. lusisilu
    lusisilu ·

    great great photographs!

More Interesting Articles

  • My Key to Escaping Digital Confinement: The Lomo LC-Wide

    written by nickpage on 2015-01-09 in #lifestyle
    My Key to Escaping Digital Confinement: The Lomo LC-Wide

    I'm Nick Page, a graphic designer based in the UK. After 20 years of working in advertising, I returned to film photography five years ago and found that the analogue life was just what I needed to get away from the "pixel perfect" images I deal with every day in my job.

    4
  • My Week In Film: December 15th-21st, 2014

    written by alienmeatsack on 2015-01-06 in #lifestyle
    My Week In Film: December 15th-21st, 2014

    Another week in film done. This week, I have more Instax, some Konstruktor, a failed triple exposure of myself and shooting film for international film swaps. And this is just the stuff I’m telling you about.

    4
  • Lomo'Instant: How to Make Instant Connections

    written by mindofmyra on 2014-10-31 in #lifestyle

    Before moving to New York City, I was told that people keep to themselves. Thus, I set forth to put myself out there and create connections with the people in my community, using the Lomo'Instant as an icebreaker! I was proven wrong—if you show an ounce of kindness to anyone, they will overflow in return.

  • Shop News

    110 Experiment Kit

    110 Experiment Kit

    With this bundle, you can choose a camera, film and accessories to spice up your 110 shooting experience!

  • Film Manipulation: Kodak Slides and Bleach

    written by neonlights on 2014-07-30 in #gear #tipster
    Film Manipulation: Kodak Slides and Bleach

    I want to share with you my experience with some slides when I was in Russia. I'm very sorry for them because I messed them up. They're just ruined and they'll never be the same! But hey, I have thousands of them, so I guess it's not a big deal after all.

    4
  • Free Express Shipping Deals for a Very Limited Time

    written by jacobs on 2014-12-19 in #news
    Free Express Shipping Deals for a Very Limited Time

    Are you a procrastinator when it comes to holiday shopping? Perhaps you just now realized we have the perfect gifts for your loved ones? Whatever the case, we've got you covered with our incredible free express shipping deals across the world! Depending on what country you order from, any order over €150/£150/$200 may qualify for free express shipping before the cut off dates. Scroll down to see the details of this super offer!

  • Pushing Boundaries: So I Heard You Like Multiple Exposures

    written by Amber Valentine on 2015-04-11 in #world #tipster
    Pushing Boundaries: So I Heard You Like Multiple Exposures

    My name is Amber Valentine and I have a confession to make: I’m not really a photographer. I have a website full of photographs, a bookshelf full of cameras, film waiting to be developed, and a wall full of framed pictures I’ve taken. Even so, I don’t really consider myself a photographer per se. I think that Lomography is more about the experimentation and the fun of film than it is about the photography, and that experimentation is part of the reason I have embraced Lomography so.

    2
  • Shop News

    Fuji Instax Wide 300

    Fuji Instax Wide 300

    Shoot wider and bigger with this new instax camera that has film format twice the size of the instax mini films!

  • Lomography x FotoDC: Faces and Places of DC Exhibition

    written by Samantha Norman on 2015-06-29 in #world #news #events #competitions
    Lomography x FotoDC: Faces and Places of DC Exhibition

    Lomography has teamed up with Foto DC to get a true sense of Washington through a Spring competition. A slew of visceral, expressive images went under the critical eyes of curators Frank Hallam Day's and Melissa Golden, and we have a set of winners! Join us in the D.C. area on July 2 at 6:30 p.m. for an exhibition of the photos of the Faces and Places of D.C.

  • Chemical Manipulations with the Lomo’Instant

    written by tomas_bates on 2015-01-21 in #gear #tipster
    Chemical Manipulations with the Lomo’Instant

    Perhaps you’ve already had chance to try light painting, multiple exposures and long exposures with your Lomo’Instant, but what can you experiment with next? Well, that’s exactly the thought I had which led to giving this Tipster a go. I wanted to shoot Lomo’Instant photos which felt a bit “messier” than what I’m usually used to and to use a technique which would open up new possibilities with the kinds of images I could create with my favorite instant camera. Well, here I go!

    2
  • How To Bring Your Images To Life

    written by andie_sollmer on 2014-07-08 in #gear #tipster

    Learn how to make a minimovie out of your favorite picture! It works best with Multi-lensed cameras like the Oktomat or Pop9, where you have many images on one single print.

    2
  • Shop News

    La Sardina and Flash + Fritz the Blitz Adaptor Pack

    La Sardina and Flash + Fritz the Blitz Adaptor Pack

    The La Sardina and Flash + Fritz the Blitz Adaptor Pack allows you to take dynamic, wide-angled flash-infused photos on the go!

  • Moody Black and White Photographs Taken with the Konstruktor

    written by chooolss on 2014-12-03 in #lifestyle
    Moody Black and White Photographs Taken with the Konstruktor

    Pair your trusty Konstruktor with a roll of black and white emulsion and create a few dramatic and expressive images yourself!

  • LomoKino: Life in Moving Pictures!

    written by adi_totp on 2014-08-21 in #reviews
    LomoKino: Life in Moving Pictures!

    I bought the LomoKino years ago, and since then I've been having great times with it. I will continue documenting my daily life with the LomoKino, which is Lomography in motion! You can see the movements and facial expressions of people - it’s priceless! Documenting life in moving pictures, the Lomokino can be used as a camera that not only shoots moving pictures but also works like the multi-frame wonder camera, Supersampler!

  • Design Your Own Aperture Plates for the Petzval Lens

    written by pearlgirl77 on 2015-01-20 in #gear #tipster
    Design Your Own Aperture Plates for the Petzval Lens

    The Petzval offers a great opportunity to use aperture plates and create any patterned bokeh you want. Of course, I had to try it out myself!

    1