helen levitt

While when it comes to NYC street photography I tend to rave mostly about Bruce Davidson (I’ve blogged about Brooklyn Gang probably like sixteen times by now for real) and while the slick, stylish urban glitz of his work creates a romantic vision of this city which I can’t get enough of, Helen Levitt is among my favourites as well.

Along with Walker Evans and Henri Cartier-Bresson, Levitt’s widely considered part of a triumvirate of great street photographers of the early twentieth century.  Her work though somehow seems more empathetic than either of theirs — almost always candid, frequently of the elderly or children, unpretentious and somehow restrained.  Levitt was an unobtrusive photographer — even when Walker Evans snapped photos of subway riders from a camera hidden in his overcoat, he framed and edited them to look like formal portraits.  In contrast, Levitt was one of those photographers who chooses the awkward images: the imperfect shots, mid-gesture, that look more like film stills than paintings, frames from a hidden surveillance camera rather than calculated representations.    

As compared to Evans’ more polished, clean portraiture and Cartier-Bresson’s decidedly Parisian glamour, Levitt’s work is gritty, uncomfortable, and occasionally downright weird — somehow the most honest portrayal of New York of the three.  Her photographs of city streets, which range from the 1920’s to the 1990’s, somehow still always seem familiar despite the distance in years, as if she’s captured something quintessentially New York that persists even today.

More after the jump, as usual.

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bruce davidson

So what if I’ve posted about Bruce Davidson before? It’s been a while since I cranked out a good old-weird-New-York post (though here’s an old favourite of those. &2, &3, et al) and these images will basically never stop seeming representative of this city to me, those sort of photos that look like some idealized notion of your city’s history and seem almost fake in how dead-on they are in that way that all good photographs are, but then you realise that actually probably has a lot to do with your concept of NYC in the 50’s/60’s/70’s as being based entirely on iconic photographs and films like this to begin with, so of COURSE these pictures just look too good to be real, which is weird to think about, but I mean basically I just want my life to look like Brooklyn Gang all of the time. 

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