Photographer Helen Levitt Dies at 95

(Helen Levitt).jpgPhotographer Helen Levitt, best known for her lyrical depictions of New York City street life, died yesterday in her sleep at the age of 95. Brooklyn-born Levitt dropped out of high school and in 1931 took a job working for a commercial photographer in the Bronx. “And I decided I should take pictures of working class people and contribute to the movements,” she said in a 2002 interview with NPR. “Whatever movements there were—Socialism, Communism, whatever was happening. And then I saw pictures of Cartier-Bresson, and realized that photography could be an art—and that made me ambitious.”

That’s something of an understatement. Levitt soon met Cartier-Bresson (during his 1935 stint in New York), befriended Walker Evans, and through him, met Ben Shahn and James Agee, who both proved to be major influences on her work. In 1943, she had her first solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art and went on to show in Edward Steichen‘s landmark 1955 “Family of Man” exhibition and many, many other shows, including retrospectives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the International Center of Photography, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Upon visiting her apartment, a reporter was surprised to find none of Levitt’s photographs on display. “I know what they look like,” she said. “I don’t want to look at them all the time.”