Seven Decades of New York Through Helen Levitt’s Camera

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Before there was Humans of New York, there was Helen Levitt (1913-2009). For seven decades the documentary photographer roamed the streets of New York—from Spanish Harlem to the Lower East Side—documenting the everyday lives of the city’s inhabitants. Helen Levitt: In the Street, an exhibition featuring 30 photographs, a slide installation and her iconic lm, In the Street, will run at the Milwaukee Art Museum from Jan. 27 through April 16. Her work, rst in black and white and later in color, captured life in motion in a way that unintentionally revealed social meaning. Rarely were subjects posing; rather, they seemed to be unaware that her camera was trained on them. In the early part of Levitt’s career, the sidewalks and streets were where life played out, particularly for the poor and working class. Children took center stage in some of her best-known work, as did the commonplace vignettes of stoops, doorways and curbs, where mini dramas and routine interactions among friends and families often took place.

Main image: Helen Levitt, New York, c. 1940; courtesy of Telfair Museums, © Film Documents LLC

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