Helen Levitt

Exhibition Helen Levitt: In The Street

© Helen Levitt

“All I can say about the work I try to do,
is that the aesthetic is in reality itself.” – Helen Levitt


─── by Josh Bright, October 13, 2021

The Photographers’ Gallery (London) presents an extensive retrospective of work by the enigmatic American photographer Helen Levitt. Though not always credited as such, Levitt was one of the finest street photographers of the twentieth century and an early exponent of color, who spent much of her career capturing the theatre of quotidian life in her native New York City.

Color street photography by Helen Levitt, girl looking under green car, NYC
Helen Levitt New York, 1980 © Film Documents LLC Courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne


Though she worked briefly with a commercial portrait photographer, it was a chance encounter with Henri Cartier Bresson in the early 1930s, and a subsequent exhibition of his work (alongside that of
Walker Evans & Manuel Alvarez Bravo) that ultimately inspired Levitt to dedicate herself to photography.

Armed with her 35mm Leica she wandered the neighborhoods that surrounded her Manhattan home, transcribing life as it unfolded on the sidewalks, stoops and streets.

Black and White street photography by Helen Levitt, elderly women NYC, young boys smoking
Helen Levitt - New York, 1940 © Film Documents LLC Courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne
Black and White street photography by Helen Levitt, man and woman sleeping on train NYC
Helen Levitt - New York, 1938 © Film Documents LLC Courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne


Her distinct visual language was simultaneously forthright and performative, molded in part by her interest in leftwing politics; avant-garde film; the surrealist movement, and contemporary dance, and speaks to the quiet genius of a unique practitioner whose vision helped shape the landscape of contemporary ‘street photography’.

Curated by Walter Moser in collaboration with TPG’s Senior Curator, Anna Dannemann, and co-produced by The Albertina Museum, Vienna, and The Photographers’ Gallery, (which hosted Levitt’s first European exhibition 33 years ago) this radical exhibition will feature some of the most compelling images from her extensive oeuvre.

Color street photography by Helen Levitt, elderly women NYC.
Helen Levitt - New York, 1973 © Film Documents LLC Courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne
Black and White street photography by Helen Levitt, woman, taxi, NYC
Helen Levitt - New York, 1982 © Film Documents LLC Courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne
Color street photography by Helen Levitt, children eating candy, NYC
Helen Levitt - New York, 1971 © Film Documents LLC Courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne


Spanning five decades of her remarkable career, it encompasses a  broad selection of her New York street photography: from her early monochrome works through to her wonderfully compelling color images from the 1970s and 80s. In addition, it will feature some of
her lesser-known inceptions: her early photographs of pavement chalk drawings; her portrayals of life in some of Mexico City’s poorer neighborhoods, which she captured during a several-month long sojourn in 1941 (the only body of work captured outside her home city) and the exhibition’s eponym, In the Street, the experimental 1953 documentary she made alongside poet and photographer Janice Loeb, and writer James Agee (with whom she collaborated on a number of projects) which corresponds consonantly to her photographic output and is considered an important antecessor of the cinéma vérité style that emerged during the following decade.

Black and White street photography by Helen Levitt, young boys
Helen Levitt - New York, 1940 © Film Documents LLC Courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne


Helen Levitt: In The Street
is on display at The Photographers’ Gallery, London from 15 October 2021.

The exhibition opens alongside Helen Cammock: Concrete Feathers and Porcelain Tacks, a new film and installation project from the Turner Prize-nominated artist Helen Cammock.

All photos © Helen Levitt