Helen Levitt’s photographs from the 1930s and ’40s are extraordinarily vivid evocations of New York City street life and its protagonists. Capturing evanescent configurations of gesture, pose, and expression, her images reveal the street as surreal theater, and everyday life as art and mystery. The unguarded play of children understandably became Levitt’s particular preoccupation. She resisted political readings of her work and distanced herself from the progressive impulses of social documentary photography. But class, race, and gender are sharply, if quietly, observed in her images. The diffidence and seeming artlessness of Levitt’s work also belie her devotion to both popular and avant-garde cinema, the work of other photographers, and the art being shown in the city’s galleries and museums. Art historian Shamoon Zamir reveals the complexity of Levitt’s work through a close reading of one of her most iconic images.

Each volume in the One on One series is a sustained meditation of a single work from the collection of The Museum of Modern Art. A richly illustrated and lively essay illuminates the subject in detail and situates that work within the artist’s life and career as well as within broader historical contexts. This series is an invaluable guide for exploring and interpreting some of the most beloved artworks in the Museum’s collection.

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