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October 14, 2007
New York, circa 1940, © Helen Levitt. Courtesy Laurence Miller Gallery and powerHouse Books.
Helen Levitt has been photographing the ordinary and marvelous theater of the streets in New York City since the 1930s. A retrospective show in Paris, and two relatively new books, support the notion that she is one of the most important street photographers of the 20th century. She was a pioneer of color photography, too, earning a one-woman show at the MoMA in 1974 — the first time a museum considered color photography to be "art".
The retrospective, at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, reminds me a bit of the magical Wizard of Oz movie: We emerge awestruck from the exquisite black-and-white prints from the 1930s and 40s, only to discover on the next floor the same world, a couple decades later, in vibrant super-saturated color. The yummy dye-transfer prints from the 70s make me yearn for that all-but-abandoned technology.
Lens Culture is pleased to present a small overview: 24 of Levitt's photos that span the decades.