Wednesday, October 06, 2010
Go See: Hipsters, Hustlers, and Handball Players: Leon Levinstein's New York Photographs, 1950–1980
Street photography wasn't invented on a blog. Net snappers like Scott Schulman, Garance Dore, and Tommy Ton may be greatly talented, but they aren't original to the degree you might think. While the wireless technology of quick shots and even quicker sharing has made the global street scene an international public venue for fashion and character shows, the real pioneers of the genre were out working in the field at a time when their unsuspecting subjects didn't even know what a camera lens was. Leon Levinstein's work is a black and white time capsule of a mythic New York that was but will never be again: the gritty city of the 1970s.
The small rooms lined with his photos at The Met until the 17th of this month are your windows on that world. The public, in all of its beautifully rough glory stars in the snaps that are cool, grimy, sweet, and stunning.
The thing I admire most about any public photographer is their ability to capture an unwitting subject without altering a moment. Levinstein comments in the show's online material that he's lucky he never lost a tooth or a lens. "Most people don't particularly care to be photographed," he said, "and if you ask them--the picture's ruined." There's a risk in that. I'm glad Leon took that risk again and again, and I'm hoping you'll catch this tribute to his brave legacy before it's taken down.