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Helen Levitt (1913–2009)

Author of A Way of Seeing

Includes the names: Helen Levitt

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Helen Levitt was born to a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York. She dropped out of high school in her senior year and in 1931 began working for J. Florian Mitchell, a commercial portrait photographer, where she learned darkroom developing and printing. The documentary works of Henri Cartier-Bresson had a major influence on her career, as did Walker Evans, Ben Shahn, and members of the Film and Photo League. She learned about composition by looking at paintings in museums, and practiced by taking photos of her mother’s friends with a used Voigtländer camera. In 1937, while teaching art classes to children, she began taking their photos as they played in the streets, which were later published as In The Street: Chalk Drawings and Messages, New York City 1938–1948 (1987). In 1943, she had her first solo show at the Museum of Modern Art. She received her first grant in 1946 from the Modern, and in 1959-1960, she received two grants from the Guggenheim Foundation for her pioneering work in color photography. In 1965, she published her first major collection, A Way of Seeing. In 1976, she was a Photography Fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2005, a collection of more than 100 of her color photos were published in a book called Slide Show. Other collections included Crosstown (2001); Here and There (2004); and Helen Levitt (2008). She also became an avant garde filmmaker.
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