Helen Levitt (1913–2009, Brooklyn, New York City) numbers among the foremost exponents of street photography. The ALBERTINA Museum in Wien is featuring, until 27th of January 2019, this American photographer in a retrospective that brings together around 130 of her iconic works.
It was in the 1930s that this passionate observer and chronicler of New York street life first began taking pictures of the inhabitants of poorer neighborhoods such as the Lower East Side, the Bronx, and Harlem. And with her eye for the surreal and for ironic details, she was to spend many further decades immortalizing everyday people in dynamic compositions: children at play, passersby striking a pose, couples conversing. Levitt’s unsentimental pictorial language gives rise to a humorous and theatrical pageant situated beyond any moral or social documentary clichés. Spanning more than six decades, her pictures, films, and books capture everyday life in the poor neighborhoods of her native New York City.
The exhibition offers a survey of her main groups of works and shows her development from a street photographer to a documentary filmmaker and pioneer of color photography. After working for a commercial portrait photographer for a short time, Helen Levitt began to devote herself to photography in 1936. Inspired by meeting the great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, she began to capture residents of such neighborhoods as East Harlem and the Bronx with a 35-mm Leica camera, revolutionizing traditional reportage photography. Contrary to the usual intention of documenting social injustices for sociopolitical purposes, Levitt, with an eye for humorous details, depicted playing children and interacting adults in dynamic snapshots that rendered everyday scenes as a theatrical spectacle. Influenced by surrealism and silent film, the artist focused on her subjects’ paradoxical and uncanny aspects as well as on their expressive body language.
until 27th of January, 2019
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