Posts Tagged ‘Slide Show: The Colour Photographs of Helen Levitt

21
Apr
09

Vale Helen Levitt: Always ‘Here and There’

 

“For the perfect flaneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world … Thus the lover of universal life enters into the crowd as though it were an immense reservoir of electrical energy …”

Charles Baudelaire ‘The Painter of Modern Life’ 1863

 

Speaking of pioneers of colour photography the wonderful American photographer Helen Levitt died recently at the end of March. Here is a selection of her colour work from the 1970s – 1980s. With two Guggenheim Foundation grants in 1959 and 1960 she switched from black and white to colour dye-transfer prints photographing the theatre of the street, the serendipity of the decisive moment previsualised and captured through awareness and an intimate knowledge of her subject matter. Unfortunately in a burglary in 1970 most of her colour transparencies and prints were stolen from that initial period.
What remains, as Sally Mann would say, are the eloquent bones of the matter: superb lush colour photographs taken after 1970 that engage the viewer not in memory but in the moment, not in nostalgia but in joy. In colour she found “beauty in correspondences.”

 

Helen Levitt. 'New York' 1972

 

Helen Levitt
‘New York’
1972

 

Helen Levitt. 'New York' c.1971

 

Helen Levitt
‘New York’
c.1971

 

Helen Levitt. 'New York' c.1971

 

Helen Levitt
‘New York’
c.1971

 

“A good image, she thought, was just lucky. But her New Yorker’s instinct seemed to tell her exactly where to wait for one. A broken-down car would soon attract people to lie under it, peer under the hood or try to push it. A cane chair, put out on the sidewalk, would draw an elderly man with cigar and newspaper, or a plump young woman in a housecoat wilting in the heat. With luck dogs would come out too, rough-haired mutts or poodles with fresh-shampooed coats. The open back of a truck would reveal delivery men moping on piles of sacks, or dozing among pink and blue bales of cloth. Any abandoned thing – a tea-chest, a mirror frame, the pillared entry of an empty building – would soon sport knots of children diving in, climbing up, fighting and contorting their small bodies in every kind of way … 

Her pictures did not have names. “New York”, and the year, was the label on most of them. They did not need explaining; they were “just what you see” … 

 

Helen Levitt. 'New York' c.1971

 

Helen Levitt
‘New York’
c.1971

 

Helen Levitt. 'New York' c.1972

 

Helen Levitt
‘New York’
c.1972

 

In the 1960s, when she got two Guggenheim grants, she began to shoot the streets in colour. The tricky developing ultimately frustrated her, and the streets, too, had changed. The children had retreated indoors to watch television. But where she had found grace and texture in black and white, colour now provided beauty in correspondences. The multicoloured balls in bubble-gum machines could be picked up in a girl’s dress, or the red of a stiletto shoe matched with the frame of a shop window. Her broken-down cars were now lurid beasts against the stucco walls. And out of her peeling, greenish doorways could come women in furs, or pink hair-curlers, or orange-striped socks.”

Text from the Economist April 8th 2009

 

 

Helen Levitt. 'New York' 1980

 

Helen Levitt
‘New York’
1980

 

Helen Levitt. 'New York' 1971

 

Helen Levitt
‘New York’
1971

 

 

‘Slide Show: The Color Photographs of Helen Levitt’ by John Szarkowski, Powerhouse Books, 2005 is available from the Amazon website. The photograph above is used on the cover of the book.

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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