Category: Books
Helen Levitt, 1913 – 2009

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon this little alcove in the Metropolitan Museum of Art that was dedicated to the photographs of Helen Levitt, a small tribute to her work in light of her death in March 2009. I had been familiar with her work in passing but I had never seen any of her photos in person. These small dark prints had such delight and spoke so honestly of the street and in the capacity for the squalor of pre-war New York to be playful and whimsical.

Helen shot on the streets of New York most of her life (excepting a series in Mexico City) and documented the neighborhoods and sidewalk dwellers with an eye towards the lighthearted frolic of daily life that contrasted with the harsh urban streets, giving her images a surrealist quality. She had abandoned her large format camera after seeing an exhibit by Cartier-Bresson and began to use the 35mm Leica, occasionally with a prism to disguise the fact that she was photographing a subject.

She was a film editor and director and worked for Buñuel, works which I have not yet seen. In later years she used color, but for my own tastes, her images from the thirties and forties remain evocative and stirring.

Powerhouse Books has published several books of hers, some of which I will be buying shortly.

From the New York Times obituary.

Changes in neighborhood life also affected her work. “I go where there’s a lot of activity,” she said. “Children used to be outside. Now the streets are empty. People are indoors looking at television or something.”

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Helen Levitt, Los Angeles Times, 1963

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Helen Levitt, New York City, c 1939

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Helen Levitt, New York City, c 1940

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Helen Levitt, New York City, 1942

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Helen Levitt, New York City, 1940

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Helen Levitt, New York City, 1939

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Helen Levitt, New York City, c 1940

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Helen Levitt, New York c. 1945

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Helen Levitt, New York c. 1942

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Helen Levitt, Street Drawing, New York, 1940

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Helen Levitt, New York c. 1942

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Helen Levitt, New York City, c 1940

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Helen Levitt, New York c. 1942

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Helen Levitt, New York c. 1945

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Helen Levitt, New York c. 1942

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Helen Levitt, New York c. 1940


Go into the gaps

Go into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too.
Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn and unlock—more
than a maple—a universe. This is how you spend the afternoon, and
tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You
can’t take it with you.

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Hanoi, Nikon F5, 35-70mm, Agfa APX 400

Hanoi, Nikon F5, 35-70mm, Agfa APX 400 © Doug Kim


the tree with the lights in it

“Many newly sighted people speak well of the world, and teach us how dull is our own vision. To one patient, a human hand, unrecognized, is ‘something bright and then holes.’ Shown a bunch of grapes, a boy calls out ‘It is dark, blue and shiny….It isn’t smooth, it has bumps and hollows.’ A little girl visits a garden. She is greatly astonished, and can scarcely be persuaded to answer, stands speechless in front of the tree, which she only names by taking hold of it, and then as ‘the tree with the lights in it.'”

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

francis & noelia, los angeles; Nikon F5, 35-70mm, Tri-x

francis & noelia, los angeles; Nikon F5, 35-70mm, Kodak Tri-X © Doug Kim


“Draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio, draw and do not waste time.”
Portrait of Michelangelo (after 1535) by Jacopino del Conte

Portrait of Michelangelo (after 1535) by Jacopino del Conte

“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something will arise for later, something better. These things fill in from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

“After Michelangelo died, someone found in his studio a piece of paper on which he had written a note to his apprentice, in the handwriting of his old age: ‘Draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio, draw and do not waste time.'”

— Annie Dillard, The Writing Life