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August 11th, 2010

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09:37 pm - Helen Levitt, Slide Show
Helen Levitt, Slide Show
powerHouse Books, New York, 2005

Helen Levitt's early work, in the 1940s, set the bar for black and white street photography. In 1959, and again in 1960, she received two Guggenheim grants to revisit her earlier style using color film. As John Szarkowski says in his foreword:
Her object was to use color neither in a decorative nor in a purely formal way, but as a descriptive and expressive aspect of the subject, as inherent to it as gesture, shape, space, and texture.
This book is actually my first acquaintance with the work of Helen Levitt, so I can't compare her color and black and white work. However, she does integrate the color of the film with the subject. The use of color here feels very matter of fact to me, it doesn't intrude on the subject.

There's a lot of humor to this work. A tall, skinny man stands in the narrow gap between parking meter and sign post, all angles, elbows, and knees. A young child sits nonchalantly in a window, his face covered with yesterday's Halloween makeup. On the cover, three scrawny, bedraggled roosters parade in front of empty rows of new restaurant chairs, still covered in plastic.

The humor bridges the gap between the subject and the viewer. I think her eye is not to sensationalize but to empathize. So that when I look at the picture of two old people, bent with scoliosis, crossing a street in front of shiny new sports cars (all we see are the hoods) I'm not laughing at the old people. I think, "that could be me someday." Her pictures show, as Szarkowski said in his foreword, "the games of children, the errands and conversations of the middle-aged, and the observant waiting of the old."

(5 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:August 12th, 2010 05:55 am (UTC)
I love her work. I need to get some more photography books from the CCP library. They have an amazing collection.
[User Picture]
Date:August 12th, 2010 06:11 am (UTC)
I liked it a lot too. I was looking for books with writing by John Szarkowski, which is how I happened to get this one. I've gone back and requested some of her other books the Seattle Public Library has.

The SPL has a furlough the last week of September, so books checked out now have an extra long check out period -- close to five weeks!
[User Picture]
Date:August 12th, 2010 06:17 am (UTC)
Well, not to make you jealous, but as a university employee I can check out books from the Center for Creative Photography for SIX MONTHS with infinite renewals unless someone recalls the book. And they have the most amazing collection. I'm going next week to get new books thanks for your inspiration. It's been too long since I've gone and loaded up with new stuff.
[User Picture]
Date:August 12th, 2010 06:31 am (UTC)
Dang! That "not to make me jealous" makes me jealous!

Just kidding. I think I'd have half the library in short order.
[User Picture]
Date:August 12th, 2010 05:00 pm (UTC)
thank you.

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