Helen Levitt, 1913–2009

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Helen Levitt, New York, 1980

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Helen Levitt, New York, 1940s

On March 29, 2009, ninety-five-year-old photographer Helen Levitt died in her sleep at her New York home. Levitt was trained as a portrait photographer and her work was inspired by the photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Walker Evans. Praised for their poetic and lyrical vision of her New York neighbors, Levitt’s photographs, first in black-and-white and later in color (Levitt was one of the pioneers of color photography) captured moments of impoverished city dwellers. For over five decades, Levitt succeeded in the quest outlined in her 1946 artist statement for her fellowship application to the Museum of Modern Art:

to seize upon and record those apparently accidental disarrangements that nevertheless and in seeming contradiction provide a more intense appreciation of reality. A city of this size and varied character constantly forces into the open material for my camera; for instance the games of children, with their uninhibited and astounding improvisations; and the sudden nuances that reveal deep repressions of the unyoung.

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