Kid’s play: 8 decades of Helen Levitt’s stunning New York City street photography

In 1940, a trio of young photographers Helen Levitt, James Agee and Janice Loeb used hidden cameras to film everyday street life in and around 110th Street and Lexington Avenue of New York’s Spanish Harlem. The footage was then edited together by Levitt and released as a short film In the Street in 1948. The film is now associated more with Levitt’s career as a street photographer than with Agee—who had an award-winning career as a novelist and screenwriter of films like The African Queen (1951) and The Night of the Hunter (1955)—or Loeb—who had a career as an artist and was married to Levitt’s brother Bill. Both Agee and Loeb were instrumental in encouraging Helen Levitt’s career as filmmaker and photographer during the 1950s and 1960s.

Born in Brooklyn in 1913 to a Russian-Jewish family who ran a wholesale knitwear distributor, Levitt decided from an early age that the family business was not for her and that she wanted to study photography. She quit school and had an apprenticeship in developing and printing at a local portrait photographer’s studio. At nineteen, Levitt studied with the photographer Walker Evans, a pioneer of documentary photography who was best known for his powerful images of farmers during the Great Depression as published in the book he collaborated on with Agee Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

Sometime in 1937, Levitt noticed children drawing with chalk in the streets. She watched them playing unselfconsciously, intensely interested in what they were doing. It was a moment of perspicacity that set Helen Levitt off documenting the children and the street scenes she encountered over the next eight decades—shooting with her eyes for others to see.
More of Helen Levitt’s work plus the film ‘In the Street’ after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
10:13 am
‘Death Is Their Destiny’: Home-movies of London punks 1978-81

London 1977: By day Phil Munnoch was a mild-mannered copywriter working for an ad agency in the heart of the city. He was neat, he was clean, he looked smart in his collar and tie, sharp pressed trousers and bright, shiny shoes. But Phil had a secret that he kept from his colleagues. At the end of each working day, like some postmodern superhero Phil would change out of his work clothes into tight fitting bondage trousers, studded dog collar and badge-covered plastic jacket to become his punk alter ego Captain Zip.

Captain Zip hung out with the other punks who idly wandered up and down the King’s Road every evening. He enjoyed the freedom, the camaraderie, the sense of adventure and the sound of punk music blaring out of shop radios. Zip was older than these young punk rock fans and was wise enough to know he was a part of something very, very important.

Being part of the gang allowed Munnoch access to film his friends and acquaintances and between 1978 and 1981, in the guise of Captain Zip, Munnoch documented the street life of punks on the King’s Road. In the 1980s, Munnoch collected the first eight of these Super-8 home movies together to make the short documentary film Death Is Their Destiny that captured the subculture of punks in London.

Background on Phil Munnoch and Captain Zip plus interviews, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
11:37 am