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Helen Levitt
New York
c. 1940
gelatin silver print
Image: 11 1/16 × 7 1/2 inches (28.1 × 19.1 cm)Sheet: 11 7/8 × 8 7/8 inches (30.2 × 22.5 cm)
Credit Line
Gift of Mrs. Robert O. Levitt.
Accession Number
Helen Levitt’s photograph of a group of children playing on a street in Spanish Harlem is surely a remarkable example of an artist’s perfect visual judgment. Using a hand-held, point-and-shoot, automatic camera, Levitt photographed a world where men and women chat, mothers care for their children, shop signs hawk their owners’ wares, and a street curb becomes a child’s universe of serious play.

This image was exhibited in Photographs of Children, Levitt’s first one-person show, at the Museum of Modern Art in 1943, and was first published in A Way of Seeing in 1965. An earlier version of the photograph is cropped just below the shoe sign on the top and after “LAUND” on the right. All attention is drawn to the young boys in the center of the picture.Telfair’s later, uncropped print reveals just how magical the original full-frame exposure is. Arms and legs of children line the right half of the picture, and the shoe sign at the top of the photograph echoes beautifully the shoe on the youngster at the lower portion of the print. The viewer is compelled to look through the broken mirror to the street behind and discover a remarkably varied street life beyond the focal point. Here is contained a symphony of people and place, a cacophony of opposites, a buzz of energy, and a crystallization of a moment that immortalizes forever an incident in the lives of children at play. This wondrously complex street scene shows Levitt, at the age of twenty-six, in full command of her medium.