New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 43 December 20 to 26, 2012

The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

Leon Levenstein
Leon Levinstein
In Your Face
New York, 1050’s by Leon Levinstein. Source:
Leon Levinstein, "New York, 1050’s"

After viewing this exhibition of some 50 vintage prints at the Steven Kasher gallery, it’s easy to see why Leon Levenstein’s name could very well be in the pantheon of street photographers whose members include Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, William Klein, and Helen Levitt. Yet he chose to remain independent and aloof from the art world, famously saying, “You gotta be alone and work alone. It’s a lonely occupation, if you wanna call it that.” Fearless and seemingly invisible enough to get very close to his subjects, whether they be prostitutes, society types, celebrities, or assorted street characters, his chosen life of isolation might have helped him feel at home on the streets of New York with his camera. But, despite numerous group shows, including the 1955 Family of Man exhibition at MoMA, this choice didn’t help him advance his career or reputation.

He mastered the art of the grab shot, photographed from angles that accentuated bodies and faces, and saw pictures that other photographers would have missed–– a singular approach evident in many of the images now gracing Kasher’s walls. “A good photograph will prove to the viewer how little our eyes permit us to see,“ he said, “Most people really don’t see—see only what they have always seen and what they expect to see—where a photographer, if he’s good, will see everything.”

Black Woman and Child by Leon Levinstein. Source:
Leon Levinstein, "Black Woman and Child" 1956

He cropped photographs of body parts— faces, heads, hands, legs–– to offer us a more memorable point of view. Some of his close-ups seem impossibly close. In “Untitled, New York, 1970s,” for example, he captures raw emotion: a man approaches the camera with a raised fist; the woman behind him appears to be screaming. What was the story and what happened to the photographer? In “Black Woman and Child, ca. 1956,” Levenstein frames the child’s face with her mother’s arm. Strongly reminiscent of Elliott Erwitt’s style, another wonderful image, “Untitled, New York, 1960s”, shows a nun in her habit walking in front of a young girl dressed in a ballet class outfit.

Levenstein’s work has gained more recognition in recent years with a show in 2010 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a monograph to be published next year. In the meantime, the show at Kasher offers a taste of a photographer worth knowing more about.

Leon Levinstein
In Your Face

Steven Kasher Gallery
521 W 23rd St.
Chelsea         Map

212 966 3978

Thursday, November 8 to
Saturday, December 22, 2012
Hours: Tue-Sat, 11 to 6