“Hipsters, Hustlers and Handball Players: Leon Levinstein’s New York Photographs, 1950-80” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
©Howard Greenberg Gallery, Metropolitan Museum of Art
“There is a paradox in Levinstein’s approach that is shared by legions of greater and lesser street photographers: he was hunting for the poetry of real life, but what he shot was generally the sort of thing that street photographers generally shoot. Not the types of people or situations that you barely notice because they are so ordinary, but people who seem strange, marginal or ridiculous. The Beat generation’s coolly noirish, anti-bourgeois spirit animates his work.
Some photographs teeter on the brink of voyeuristic cruelty. The sagging, corpulent old woman in a bathing suit with a brown paper bag for a hat glares at the camera with what seems like a lifetime of stored-up rage. In other pictures you feel condescension masquerading as social sympathy, as in generic images of emaciated women — drug addicts, no doubt — sitting exhaustedly on stoops. Couples and families lying on the crowded sands of Coney Island are works of mandarin Social Realism.”
I was not aware of Levinstein’s work before reading about the show in the NYTimes. The review isn’t exactly positive, and I think the points made in the paragraphs above are valid. Still, it’s always somewhat interesting to see street work come out of obscurity.