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July 4, 2020

Colorful Life of New York in the 1970s Through Helen Levitt's Lens

Born 1913 in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, New York, American photographer Helen Levitt became intrigued with the transitory chalk drawings that were part of the New York children's street culture of the time while teaching art classes to children in the mid-1930s. She purchased a Leica camera (with a right-angle viewfinder) and began to photograph these chalk drawings, as well as the children who made them. The resulting photographs were ultimately published in 1987 as In The Street: Chalk drawings and messages, New York City 1938–1948.

New York in the 1970s taken by Helen Levitt

Levitt continued taking more street photographs mainly in East Harlem but also in the Garment District and on the Lower East Side, all in Manhattan. Her work was first published in the Fortune magazine's July 1939 issue.

In 1965, Levitt published her first major collection, A Way of Seeing. Much of her work in color from 1959 to 1960 was stolen in a 1970 burglary of her East 12th Street apartment. The remaining photos, and others taken in the following years, can be seen in the 2005 book Slide Show: The Color Photographs of Helen Levitt. However, she felt equally comfortable working with black and white, as she did both in the 1980s.

Levitt lived in New York City and remained active as a photographer for nearly 70 years. She has been called “the most celebrated and least known photographer of her time.” She never married, living alone with her yellow tabby Blinky until, at the age of 95, she died in her sleep in 2009.

These fascinating color photos are part of her work that Helen Levitt captured street scenes of New York in the 1970s.

New York, 1971-72

New York, 1971

New York, 1971

New York, 1971

New York, 1971

New York, 1971

New York, 1971

New York, 1971

New York, 1971

New York, 1971

New York, 1972-74

New York, 1972

New York, 1972

New York, 1972

New York, 1972

New York, 1972

New York, 1972

New York, 1972

New York, 1973

New York, 1974

New York, 1974

New York, 1974

New York, 1976

New York, 1977

New York, 1978

New York, 1978

(Photo © Helen Levitt)

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