American photography legend Helen Levitt died yesterday at the age of 95. Best known for her witty, candid shots of everyday New York life, she was one of the most influential street photographers to date. NPR host Melissa Block interviewed Levitt in December 2001. Read Block's essay here.
Kids dancing, New York, circa 1940
Kids with laundry, New York, 1972
Kids over doorway, New York, circa 1940
Broken mirror, New York, circa 1940
Baby carriage, New York, circa 1940
3 roosters, New York, 1980
Kid in tree with mask, New York, circa 1940
Checker cab, New York, 1982
Poster girl, New York, circa 1938
Girl/green car, New York, 1980
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Although not widely known by the general public, Levitt has a devoted following among photographers and photography lovers. She worked among the likes of Walker Evans and James Agee and trained with the French photo legend Henri Cartier-Bresson.
In the 1930s and '40s, Levitt would wander the streets to document the lyrical quality of daily city life. In an era of social radicalism, she set out to make commentary on the plight of the working class. But after seeing the photographs of Cartier-Bresson for the first time, she realized that photography could be art, and that realization informed her work for the rest of her life.
James Agee described her portfolio as "a major poetic work." In fact, "poetic" is how her photos are most often described. Rather than capturing pithy moments, Levitt told timeless stories with vignettes of children playing, of people crammed into phone booths, of roosters in the street.
She lived a quiet, modest life, and died peacefully in her sleep. But her legacy has a long life ahead.