New York Photo Review
NYPR Archives - 2010

Leon Levinstein
Leon Levinstein
Leon Levinstein: Living in the Edge
Untitled c.1965

One of the first questions that comes to mind after seeing the Leon Levinstein exhibition at the Greenberg gallery might be simply, “How did he do it?” That is, how could this legendary street photographer be so unobtrusive, camera thrust in the face of his subjects, aiming to document life on the street as he saw it?

Comprised of 52 black and white photographs, this retrospective, taken mostly on the streets of New York, covers the 1950s to the 1970s. Levinstein was both fearless and resourceful, whether he was shooting the hookers and hustlers in Times Square, passers-by on Fifth Avenue, uptown society ladies, or beach lovers in Coney Island.

After moving to New York from West Virginia in 1946, Levinstein studied photography with Lisette Model and Sid Grossman of the Photo League and was mentored by Alexey Brodovitch of Harper’s Bazaar and Edward Steichen at the Museum of Modern Art. Not a bad way to get started.

Gaining early recognition, in 1955, Levinstein told Photography Annual, "In my photographs I want to look at life—at the commonplace things as if I just turned a corner and ran into them for the first time." One image that I found of particular interest was the close-up of a man’s profile entitled “Fifth Avenue, 1969.” Some of the others, including photographs of butts, legs and various body part combinations, weren’t as compelling.

His graphic design sense, which no doubt contributed to his use of perspective and sharp angles in his photographs, gave his work a unique style that compared favorably with contemporaries such as William Klein and Robert Frank. Still, in the pantheon of legendary street photographers, Leon Levinstein’s name usually doesn’t make the first cut.

“Living in the Edge”, which comes on the heels of the recent Levinstein show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, should add to the awareness of his considerable talents.

 by unidentified photographer.
Leon Levinstein, Fifth Avenue, 1969

Leon Levinstein
Leon Levinstein: Living in the Edge


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