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Photo of the Week #8

Helen Levitt

Helen Levitt, New York City, 1938

Helen Levitt, New York City, 1938


October 30, 2018
As a photography dealer, I spend a good deal of time looking at photographs upside down, while sharing them right side up with collectors across the table. A virtue of this process is that the underlying forms quickly emerge, while the specific details become, for the moment, secondary. This is especially true for Helen Levitt's prints.
I have long held the belief that Levitt's visual genius was a synthesis of her two favorite, yet stylistically opposed photographer friends, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Walker Evans. Levitt seemed to know intuitively how to instantly capture her subjects in their fluid dance (think DECISIVE MOMENT), and how to position them within an Evans-like frontal organization (think LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS MEN). This combination formed a unique vision easily recognized as her own. Further enhancing this mix was her close friendship with author James Agee, who wrote the text for the above mentioned Walker Evans' book, as well as the introduction to Helen Levitt's own classic, A WAY OF SEEING.
This marvelous picture of a grimacing boy wearing a cardboard crown while ascending the edge of a doorway is perfectly balanced, suspended in time, but when viewed topsy turvy, has a cubist sense of diagonal forces all converging on the distressed lad. That our print of this image comes from the James Agee family collection connects the dots perfectly, whether upside down or right side up.

-Laurence Miller