The Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) has a new photographic exhibit on view, featuring black and white photos taken by Helen Levitt. Most of the photographs display children doing various activities in the streets of New York City in the 1930s and 1940s.
“We are thrilled to have an exhibit of such an important 20th century American photographer,” Executive Director Gretchen Dietrich said.
There are more than 30 photographs in the exhibit. The photographs belong to the museum, many of them donated by Helen Levitt’s family.
One of the pictures Levitt took in 1938 is of a man standing behind an open fire hydrant with water rushing out into the street. There is a picture of four children playing in the street that was taken in 1940, and another of a man sitting outside in a chair with a baby on his knee.
There are also a few photographs that show graffiti on stairs and doors and walls. There is a picture of a man sitting on stairs in 1939 with the word “peace” written on the front of the top stair.
A small number of photos were taken by Levitt while in Mexico. However, Levitt did not like to travel and usually stayed around home photographing New York. There are a few pictures from the 1950’s, 1970’s and 1980’s. There are no pictures from the 1960’s due to a robbery of Levitt’s apartment.
Helen Levitt was born in 1913 and passed away in 2009. She was a self-taught photographer who lived and worked in the same place for 70 years. In 1931 she began her photographic career when she dropped out of high school and went to work for commercial photographer J. Florian Mitchell.
While teaching a children’s art class in 1937, Levitt began her life-long fascination with urban street life. Levitt focused her work on children who used the streets as their playground. She also photographed the everyday lives of ordinary people in New York’s working class neighborhoods.
“Levitt is known for her images of children, she captures humans as actors on a stage,” Jill Dawsey, Acting Chief Curator said.
In 1939 Levitt had a noted photograph named “Halloween” that was included in the opening exhibit of the Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) new photography section. Four years later in 1943, the MoMA held Levitt’s first solo exhibition titled “Helen Levitt: Photographs of Children.”
Among other accomplishments, Levitt was nominated for an Academy Award in 1948 for writing and creating the movie The Quiet One with Janice Loeb and James Agee.
The Utah Museum of Fine Arts in located on the University of Utah Campus in the Marcia and John Price Museum Building. The address is 410 Campus Center Drive and is accessible by TRAX. Salt Lake Community College students gain free entrance to the exhibit with a student ID.
The exhibit will run from Feb. 24 to June 12, 2011.