Slide Show: The Color Photographs of Helen Levitt

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9781576872529: Slide Show: The Color Photographs of Helen Levitt

“At least a dozen of Helen Levitt’s photographs seem to me as beautiful, perceptive, satisfying, and enduring as any lyrical work that I know. In their general quality and coherence, moreover, the photographs as a whole body, as a book, seem to me to combine into a unified view of the world, an uninsistent but irrefutable manifesto of a way of seeing, and in a gently and wholly unpretentious way, a major poetic work.”
—James Agee

World-renowned for her iconic black-and-white street photographs, New York City’s visual poet laureate Helen Levitt also possessed a little-known archive of color work, which was been collected for the first time in Slide Show, her third powerHouse Books monograph.

In 1959, and again in 1960, Helen Levitt received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation to photograph in color on the streets of New York, where she had photographed two decades earlier in black-and-white. But tragically, the best of these pioneering color pictures were stolen from her apartment in 1970 and she had to start over again. In 1974 the new work was shown as a continuous slide projection at New York’s Museum of Modern Art—an early example of a slide show presentation by a museum and one of the first exhibitions of serious color photography anywhere in the world.

Slide Show presents more than one hundred photographs—including eight surviving images from the 1959–60 series—more than half of which have never been exhibited or published before. This impressive monograph is a worthy successor to her magnum opus, Crosstown (powerHouse, 2001), which included the largest collection of her color pictures to date, and to her more intimate volume of black-and-white work, Here and There (powerHouse, 2004), which presented more than eighty “unknown” Levitts taken over six decades.

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About the Author :

Helen Levitt (1913-2009) had her first solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1943. Levitt’s photographs appeared in Edward Steichen’s landmark 1955 show The Family of Man and in more recent exhibitions of great importance, including MoMA’s Photography Until Now and the National Gallery of Art’s On the Art of Fixing a Shadow in Washington, D.C., both celebrating the invention of photography. She has been the subject of numerous retrospective exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the International Center of Photography, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Levitt’s reputation as New York City’s master street photographer was further cemented in 2001 when her photographs were featured in the opening sequence of Ken Burns’ acclaimed PBS documentary series, New York. The author of the critically acclaimed, best-selling monographs Crosstown, Here and There, and Slide Show (powerHouse Books, 2001, 2004, and 2005), Levitt lived and worked in New York City, naturally.

John Szarkowski is director emeritus of the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art, New York and was the director of the department from 1962 to 1991, in which time he oversaw more than one hundred exhibitions and the inauguration of MoMA’s photography collection galleries, and edited and contributed writing to various publications. His exhibitions include New Documents, Mirrors and Windows, Photography until Now, and retrospectives of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, Diane Arbus, and Eugène Atget. Szarkowski is the recipient of the International Center of Photography Infinity Awards for Writing and for Lifetime Achievement, the Royal Photographic Society Progress Medal, and the National Arts Club Gold Medal for Photography, to name a few. He has taught at Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, and Yale. Szarkowski returned to picture making in 1991, and has exhibited his work at Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and the Cleveland Museum of Art. He lives in New York.

From Publishers Weekly :

Starred Review. Often squalid and always unsentimental, but full of wonder and sly humor, photographer Levitt's New York City is both familiar and startling, never more so than in these color photos from the early 1970s. (The book also includes a handful of prints from 1959–1960.) Without the arty distancing effect of black-and-white (for which she is primarily known), Levitt's trademark wit has more hard-edged immediacy. Levitt's city on a summer afternoon, the time of day when most of these photos were taken, is as full of oddities as the ocean floor. In one striking shot, a tiny girl crouches awkwardly by the curb like a little crab, her delicate knees and elbows askew. Levitt seems to regard the human body as a fascinating bit of found sculpture. She captures a man's belly sagging in counterpoint to a crumpled car fender, a beggar's folds of fat hanging down like the fabric of his rag bags and the brutal contrast between an old, bent-over couple and the gleaming hoods of a pair of sport cars. Old age and poverty are on extensive display, but the effect is never grim. Levitt—who still lives and works in New York—never lets the pathetic and dirty overshadow the pure pleasure of seeing without flinching. (Feb.)
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