” Never had a ‘project.’ I would go out and shoot, follow my eyes—what they noticed, I tried to capture with my camera, for others to see.” – Helen Levitt
This week I want to present my favourite street photographer Hellen Levitt. Helen Levitt was an American photographer best known for her iconic New York street photography. Born on August 31, 1913 in Brooklyn, NY to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents.
Inspired by earlier masters such as Walker Evans and Henri Cartier-Bresson, she took her 35-milimeter Leica camera to the streets, intimately capturing the daily activities of women, children, and minority communities.
I don’t want to write too much about her biography but I want to point out why I love her photography and what drew me to her art.
Her photos are spontaneous you can almost feel like you are in New York City in the middle of the 20th century . Her photos are like a time machine and l can almost hear the people talking while I look at her photos. She was amazing with capturing emotion on the faces of people, looking at the photos you can almost read the people’s minds.
A great example is the photo of the girl staring at the handsome boy, you can really see that she fancies him and maybe wants to kiss him. Her body position says she is very shy which make it so sweet and innocent.
The other photo which I adore is of the woman carrying two bottles of milk and the pregnant young lady looking at her, what a great combination. You can see the eyes of the future mother to be , you can almost hear her voice in her head.
What I love the most about Helen’s photos is her humour, her photos make me smile every time I look at them. She could have focused more on the darkness of those times but she chose to photograph happiness and joy, she didn’t focus on the misery and negative of the human condition which you could find everywhere in NYC in 30’s and 40’s of the 20th century.
Helen’s subjects never change, she always worked in poor neighbourhoods, because of the richness of life on the streets. She focused on comedy, fun and she did a fantastic job. I think that the street for her was like s stage and people were actors and actresses. Every single photo she took tells a story, you can look at her photo and think what are these children thinking.
I love one of her sentences“; The neighborhoods are different. They’re not full of children anymore. In the 1930’s there were plenty of kids playing on the street. The streets were crowded with all kinds of things going on, not just children. Everything was going on in the street in the summertime. They didn’t have air-conditioning. Everybody was out on the stoops, sitting outside, on chairs.”
I wonder what she would think if she would go and photograph children on the street in the 21st century.
When I look at this photo I can't stop laughing I wish I could see what this woman saw.
In 1980 Helen was into colour photography here are two favourite photos of hers.
Apparently she she swore like a sailor.
She died 2009.
Sadly she didn't get enough recognition when she was alive.
May 2021 Martinique