New York

ca. 1940
photograph | gelatin silver print
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  • New York

    New York, ca. 1940; gelatin silver print, 7 1/2 in. x 4 5/8 in. (19.05 cm x 11.75 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Purchase through a gift of Paul and Prentice Sack; © Estate of Helen Levitt / Laurence Miller Gallery, New York

At first glance, Helen Levitt's work is so undemonstrative, so seemingly artless that it is not easily perceived as the complex, knowing, and lyrical art that it is. Her pictures of children capture moments of transfixed play or emotional intensity, but from a respectful distance. She often photographed with a right-angle viewfinder attachment so that people would be unaware of her watching and recording them.

In this 1938 photo from the Upper East Side, the children with the mirror are entirely and imaginatively absorbed in their play: some pick shards out of the gutter; others examine the broken bits of glass; and two others, with the grace and solemnity of Renaissance angels, hold the empty frame as though parting a curtain for the child on the tricycle.

The children are surrounded by more activity on the street than is usual for most of Levitt's work. Other children giggle, a woman tends a baby carriage, men lounge in front of a shoe repair store; but the children near the curb, spread out into a graceful circle and seen with the formal elegance of a group of dancers in a Poussin painting, are as oblivious of them as they are of the photographer herself.

7 1/2 in. x 4 5/8 in. (19.05 cm x 11.75 cm)
Acquired 1989
Collection SFMOMA
Purchase through a gift of Paul and Prentice Sack
© Estate of Helen Levitt / Laurence Miller Gallery, New York


boys, children, playing, sidewalks, frames, bicycles, tattered, shirtless, urban, leisure, poverty

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