Monday, March 30, 2009
Helen Levitt, New York City's Visual Poet Laureate, Has Died at the Age of 95
Helen Levitt, one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, who documented the drama of daily life on the streets of her native New York for over seven decades, died in her sleep at her home in Manhattan on Sunday, March 29. She was 95.
Miss Levitt had her first solo exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1943. Her photographs have since appeared in Edward Steichen's landmark 1955 show The Family of Man and in more recent exhibitions of great importance, including MoMA's Photography Until Now and the National Gallery of Art's On the Art of Fixing a Shadow in Washington, D.C., both celebrating the invention of photography. She has been the subject of retrospective exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the International Center of Photography, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
From the 1930s through the 1990s, Miss Levitt permitted the publication of only a few books of her photography, but beginning in 2001, she allowed powerHouse Books to publish four volumes of her work to great acclaim: Crosstown (2001); Here and There (2004); Slide Show (2005); and Helen Levitt (2008).
Miss Levitt's incomparable oeuvre includes seven decades of New York City street photography in black-and-white, as well as little-known color work showcased for the first time in Slide Show. Like Lartigue, Kertész, and Cartier-Bresson, Miss Levitt wielded her camera as a seamless extension of her eye, able to capture fleeting moments of life with unsurpassed lyricism and style. As Adam Gopnik remarked in his 2001 New Yorker feature on the artist, "Levitt's photographs, like her city, though occasionally they rise to beauty, are mostly too quick for it. Instead, they have the quality of frozen street-corner conversation: she went out, saw something wonderful, came home to tell you all about it, and then, frustrated said, 'You had to be there,' and you realize, looking at the picture, that you were."
John Szarkowski, former director of the photography department at The Museum of Modern Art, once observed, "At the peak of Helen's form, there was no one better."