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Born in Brooklyn, Helen Levitt learned the fundamentals of camera and darkroom practice at a young age, leaving high school a semester before graduation to work for a commercial portrait studio in the Bronx.
It wasn’t until a meeting with the young French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1935, though, that she was introduced to the 35mm Leica camera and shown a new model of what it might mean to be an artist in photography.
She nurtured her vision over the next few years in New York’s museums and cinemas, and through the friendship of Walker Evans, with whom she shared a darkroom.
By 1940, Levitt’s seemingly artless photographs merited inclusion in the inaugural exhibition of the Photography Department at the Museum of Modern Art, followed by the first of 3 solo shows there 3 years later.
Levitt left still photography behind by the late 1940s, working instead as a full-time film editor. Her own film In the Street (shot in 1945–46 and first released in 1948) brought her subjects of a few years earlier to life. Then, beginning 1959 with a Guggenheim Fellowship and a new medium—color photography—Levitt once more rediscovered the enchanting cast of characters that inhabited the sidewalks of the city.
Helen Levitt (Aug. 31, 1913 – March 29, 2009). Particularly noted for "street photography" around NYC, and has been called "the most celebrated and least known photographer of her time."
...She had to give up making her own prints in the 1990s due to sciatica, which also made standing and carrying her Leica difficult, causing her to switch to a small, automatic Contax. She was born with Meniere’s syndrome, an inner-ear disorder that caused her to “[feel] wobbly all [her] life.” ... Levitt lived a personal and quiet life. She seldom gave interviews and was generally very introverted. She never married, living alone with her yellow tabby...