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Leon Levinstein, The Lonely Photographer

It's the burden of a successful photographer to answer the dreaded question: What makes a great photograph?

But sometimes a photographer will proffer an unsolicited view. Like Leon Levinstein, who, in a 1988 interview, gave his thoughts. "A good photograph," he said, "will prove to the viewer how little our eyes permit us to see. Most people only see what they've always seen and what they expect to see. Whereas a photographer, if he's good, will see everything."

And Levinstein, although perhaps an unfamiliar name, was a good photographer.

There's a common canon of 1960s street photographers, which includes names like Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand and Robert Frank. They received grants and awards, sought magazine assignments and gallery showings, and their names are always the first to roll off the tongues of photo historians and critics when discussing that era of street photography.

But one photographer, whose work rivals theirs, has remained in relative obscurity by choice; he doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. The man, Leon Levinstein, summed it up himself in that 1980s interview. "You gotta be alone and work alone," he said. "It's a lonely occupation, if you wanna call it that."

Levinstein lived loneliness to the extreme: never married, had few friends, and alienated those who wanted to advance his career. Yet that same independent spirit informed the way he saw the world. He could skulk though crowds, blend in, observe things that others would miss. The very traits that alienated him from the world also allowed him to see it in a unique way.

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In recent years, museums like New York's Museum of Modern Art have been making efforts to give the photographer more posthumous attention. Just last week a new exhibition opened at New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Hipsters, Hustlers, and Handball Players: Leon Levinstein's New York Photographs, 1950–1980" pays homage to his "graphic virtuosity," as the news release states. Levinstein's photographs of tattooed men and beach bums and downtown derrieres may seem haphazard, but there are really an unmistakable elegance and reverence that merit a second look.