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Helen Levitt

N.Y.

c. 1942

Helen Levitt distilled the commotion of New York City into poetic moments. Her enduring subject was the city’s extraordinarily diverse population, shaped by a constant influx of immigrants. Drawn to children because of their lack of self-consciousness, she often portrayed groups of girls and boys laughing, playing, and roughhousing with one another. Levitt worked with a hand-held Leica camera, outfitting it with a right-angle device that enabled her to appear as if she were photographing the scene immediately in front of her, when in actuality she was capturing what was a quarter of a turn away. In N.Y., three masked children pose theatrically on the steps of a brownstone building, seemingly unaware of any critical eye or camera in their midst.

Helen Levitt (b. 1913, New York; d. 2009, New York)
N.Y., c. 1942
Gelatin-silver print
10 3/4 x 14 in.
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Photography Collection

I decided I should take pictures of working-class people and contribute to the movements, whatever movements there were—Socialism, Communism, whatever was happening. —Helen Levitt