In an urban environment becoming increasingly less suitable for young people, with only few green spaces available and car traffic that never stops, I want to dedicate this article to children and their games. I also remember and pay tribute to the photographer who was able to represent them better than everyone else: Helen Levitt.
Helen Levitt (1913-2009) was an American street photographer who worked mainly around New York. She was a teacher, and in the 1937 she became interested in chalk drawings made by children in the streets of New York. So, she bought a Leica camera and began to photograph. Her photos were published in 1987 in a book entitled In The Street: Chalk Drawings and Messages, New York City 1938–1948.
In the following years, she continued working in the streets of New York, capturing the parade of human comedy and drama; in this period, her most famous photos represented children at play.
To make this tribute to Helen Levitt, I started this article with some photos of children playing near a water fountain or in a public park in Milan. Today, it’s nearly impossible to find children playing in the main streets of our city; it’s so full of car traffic and not suited for young people. So, in the following photos, I’ll show you where and how the children are playing in our days. Today, everything is organized, and the spontaneous aggregations to play are quite rare. Parents bring their children to the gym, to a dance school, or at the swimming pool, so the leisure time of their children are marked by specific times. Fortunately, some artists sometimes organize public events in which all children can participate!
Here you can see some children painting their profile in my city Como, situated in the North of Italy:
Here, other students were painting with their teachers in the street of Catania, in the South of my country! Same game, same fun everywhere!
In this set, some children were singing and playing guitars with their teacher in the Cathedral Square of Como. In the last photo you can see a child that prefers to play with a mobile phone…a sign of the times!
In these three photos, some children were dancing together before a volleyball tournament in my city. Again, the fun is completely organized and not anymore spontaneous.
On a beach in Cervia, Italy, here’s another organized dance event.
I remember that when I was a child, I used to play football with my classmates in the public gardens a few steps away from my house. The same place where I played is now always deserted. After school, each student goes on his or her own way. In the photos above, you can see the spot we made our football field, using our sweaters as goalposts.
While writing this article, what came to my mind were the final words of a song by Cat Stevens, from which I got the title for this article:
“Well you’ve cracked the sky, scrapers fill the air
but will you keep on building higher
’til there’s no more room up there?
will you make us laugh, will you make us cry?
Will you tell us when to live
will you tell us when to die?
I know we’ve come a long way
we’re changing day to day
but tell me, where do the children play?"
Salute to the Masters is a series dedicated to great photographers that I like. I posted other tributes for Walker Evans, Lee Friedlander, Stephen Shore, Gabriele Basilico, Robert Adams, Thomas Struth, J.H. Lartigue, Elliott Erwitt, Robert Frank, Gianni Berengo Gardin and Izis. I especially love street photography and urban architectural photography.