This tightly edited and excellent show recently opened at The Metropolitan Museum and runs through October 17, so no excuse for missing it if you’re in town.
Leon Levinstein is something of an insider’s choice – being much more known and appreciated by dealers and curators than collectors or even photographers. But he’s the real deal – as almost every picture in this show demonstrates.
Based on a large donation to The Met, the exhibition features 44 prints covering the range of street people Levinstein was drawn to in the ‘60s and ‘70s. “Hipsters, Hustlers, and Handball Players” is the show title, but it might be more accurately called “Fatties, Floozies, and Fashion”. However the strange thing about the images is that however outlandish Levinsteins subjects may be, there is a generosity and a vitality to his eye that makes his characters seem almost stylish!
If you look at the pictures illustrated here, I feel that Levinstein is actually celebrating rather denigrating his subjects’ individuality and how they present themselves. It’s just that his taste is much broader than most. I think, for example, he really likes the outfit below and was simply ahead of his time in appreciating 70s fashion. As it’s pretty easy to make people look freakish, I also particularly admired Levinstein’s skill and generosity.
Ken Johnson writing in The New York Times responded in totally the opposite way. For his review click here. Let me know what you think. But to me Leon was a softie playing in a hardball world.
I wholeheartedly disagree with the NYT review. I saw no trace of judgement of the images at the Levinstein show.
Maybe we've reached a point where images like this no longer feel impactful because we've been over-exposed to Cartier-Bresson, Frank, Arbus, and virtually every person making pictures today who, conscious of it or not, wouldn't be where they are without those that came before them.
Thanks for your impressions of this extraordinary work.
I find a pathos in these pictures that transcends the very small concept of judgement of his subjects, most of which seem to have appeared to him like apparitions, or mirrors in which he saw some sliver of himself reflected.
To see the large prints on the Met's walls was an inspiring experience. I have not been moved by photography in a while and Levinstein's images were a breath of fresh air. I asked for a catalogue of the exhibit to my dismay; the Met did not put one together.
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