Educator Guide - Helen Levitt in the Street
In the Street truly captures the spirit of Helen Levitt's work. For more than seventy years she roamed the streets of New York City in and among its diverse people and sites to capture simple views of everyday life. Using a right-angle viewfinder on her camera, she was able to remain unnoticed and thereby document the city and its people as they truly were.
E D U C ATO R G U I D E This Educator Guide was designed for use in conjunction with field trips to the In the Street exhibition, or for use as a stand‐alone classroom resource. The materials included here contain curriculum connections aligned with Common Core and Georgia Professional Standards for 5th grade Visual Arts, Language Arts, and Social Studies, but are adaptable for use at other grade levels. New York, Helen Levitt, c. 1940. Vintage gelatin silver print. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Robert O. Levitt, Telfair Museums, 1998+6+ © Estate of Helen Levitt+ In the Street truly captures the spirit of Helen Levitt‟s work+ For more than seventy years she roamed the streets of New York City in and among its diverse people and sites to capture simple views of everyday life. Using a right-angle viewfinder on her camera, she was able to remain unnoticed and thereby document the city and its people as they truly were. Most of the works in this exhibition date to the 1940s and 50s, providing an invaluable look at the history of the city and its residents. Yet her work also demonstrates Levitt‟s significant artistic prowess+ Even early on, the artist‟s work was recognized by the Museum of Modern Art, thus cementing her role as a serious photographer. Her work today gives us a glimpse of both the history of life in the city and the potential of photography as an art form. Adapted from an NPR article. Full text available at: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php? storyId=102504602 Helen Levitt found magic on the grimy streets of New York. Her photographs from the '30s and '40s capture the grit and vigor and humor of the city. And she kept on shooting for much of her life. Late in 2001, I visited her in her small, well-worn apartment for a story about her life and career. And it was probably one of the toughest interviews I've ever done. It quickly became clear she didn't much like talking about her work. I tried asking about one of her best-known images — a black and white picture of four young girls watching soap bubbles drift across the street. I asked her what she captured in that picture. "Just what you see," Levitt said. I asked her why it was hard to talk about her photography. "If it were easy to talk about, I'd be a writer," she said. "Since I'm inarticulate, I express myself with images." Helen Levitt, c. 1963. ▪ What does it mean to “capture the grit and vigor” of the city? What do those words mean to you? ▪ Levitt says that the time before television was good for taking pictures. How has TV changed our lives? What do you think life was like on those streets before television? ▪ What‟s your favorite way to capture a moment or idea? Capturing Small, Perfect Moments And she talked some about walking around the streets of New York and how she could capture those moments unnoticed. "I had attached to my camera — I had a little device that fit on the Leica camera that they called a winkelsucher, that allowed you to look one way and take the picture the other," she said. "You could turn your camera sideways." They were small, perfect moments that she found, though she would never tell you that. In a photo from about 1940, some street urchins in tattered clothes cluster on the sidewalk. They're holding the frame of a broken mirror, a boy on a bicycle framed exactly in that open space. In one of my favorites, we see just the back and legs of a woman. She has dived up to her shoulders into her son's baby carriage, as he laughs in huge delight. This was a time when life was lived on the streets, and that's where Levitt spent her time — especially in Spanish Harlem. "It was a very good neighborhood for taking pictures in those days, because that was before television," she said. "There was a lot happening. And then the older people would sometimes be sitting out on the stoops because of the heat. They didn't have air conditioning in those days. It was, don't forget, in the late '30s. So those neighborhoods were very active." Book cover, A Way of Seeing, Helen Levitt, 1965. Helen Levitt (1913-2009) was once called the "the most celebrated and least known photographer of her time." She was responsible for some of the most iconic images of the streets of New York in the 20th century. Her photos captured life on the streets in some of the city‟s most vibrant neighborhoods, which she was able to do largely unnoticed. The result was images that captured the true spirit of her subjects and often seemed to speak to a larger narrative, naturally sparking certain questions in the viewer. Her movie, “In the Street” (which will screen continuously in this exhibition) is much like seeing her photos come to life. But without seeing those moments that explain „what happened next‟ we‟re left with intriguing images that beg further speculation. “At the peak of Helen‟s form, there was no one better+” Georgia Performance Standards for Fine Arts Education VA5AR.2 Uses a variety of approaches to understand and critique works of art. f. Writes about art for an audience and captures the feelings represented in words. English Language Arts Common Core Georgia Performance Standards ELACC5W3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences. a. Orient the reader by establishing a situation and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally. — John Szarkowski, former director of the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art Introduce your students to the work of Helen Levitt. You can use the article on the previous page as a class reading and discussion activity to do so. Ask students to imagine what life in a city would have been like in the ‟40s and ‟50s when Levitt took most of her photographs. Take a look at some of Levitt‟s photographs (or other photographs) as a class to discuss how to „read‟ an image+ Use visual thinking strategies (VTS) to engage your class in a student-lead discussion of various images. Moderate with the questions “What‟s going on in this picture?” and “What do you see that makes you say that?”+ [See the resource section of this guide for online VTS references, including a blog with archived images from the New York Times.] Having discussed some of Levitt‟s photographs, ask students to choose one of her photos as an inspiration for their own narrative. This could be from the exhibition, while students are in the gallery, from the images on the following pages (designed to be used as a potential handout/prompt for students), or from one of the online slideshows. Set guidelines for length and have students share their final work, discussing differences among interpretations of the same photographs. You‟ve probably heard “a picture is worth 1000 words”+ This time, those words will be yours. Choose one of the images here as your inspiration. Decide what you think the setting is, who the characters are, and what the central issue is in your narrative. Be ready to share your work and see how other people might have interpreted the same photograph in a different way! New York, c. 1940. Telfair Museums. Gift of Marvin Hoshino, 1998.12.1. © Estate of Helen Levitt+ New York, c. 1940. Gift of Marvin Hoshino, 1998+12+2+ © Estate of Helen Levitt+ New York, c. 1939. Gift of Mrs. Robert O. Levitt, 2005+27 © Estate of Helen Levitt+ New York (Slide Show), 1959, Telfair Museums. Gift of Richard and Elizabeth Devereaux, 1998.14.2. © Estate of Helen Levitt+ New York, c. 1940. Telfair Museums. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Robert O. Levitt, 1998.5. © Estate of Helen Levitt+ New York (Children with Broken Mirror), c. 1940. Telfair Museums. Gift of Mrs. Robert O. Levitt, 2002.3.1. Mexico City, 1941. Telfair Museums. Gift of Mrs. Robert O. Levitt, 2003+12+2+ © Estate of Helen Levitt+ Helen Levitt‟s photographs were not just works of art but a way to capture a moment in time. In doing so she has given us a wealth of visual information about New York in the 1930s and 40s, a time of social upheaval and change in this country. In looking at these images we get a much better idea of what life might have been like all those years ago. Georgia Performance Standards for Social Studies SS5H4 The student will describe U.S. involvement in World War I and post-World War I America. b. Describe the cultural developments and individual contributions in the 1920s of the Jazz Age (Louis Armstrong), the Harlem Renaissance (Langston Hughes), baseball (Babe Ruth), the automobile (Henry Ford), and the airplane (Charles Lindbergh). SS5H5 The student will explain how the Great Depression and New Deal affected the lives of millions of Americans. a. Discuss the Stock Market Crash of 1929, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, the Dust Bowl, and soup kitchens. b. Analyze the main features of the New Deal; include the significance of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. c. Discuss important cultural elements of the 1930s; include Duke Ellington, Margaret Mitchell, and Jesse Owens. English Language Arts Common Core Georgia Performance Standards ELACC5W2: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly. Georgia Performance Standards for Fine Arts Education VA5CU.2 Views and discusses selected artworks. a. Identifies elements, principle, themes, and/ or time period in a work of art. After engaging in some study of the early-mid 20th century, discuss strategies for assessing the age of primary source photographs. Have students, working in small groups, put the following images in chronological order based on what they know. Then have them individually write a newspaper caption that might have accompanied each photo. Have some students share their captions and as a class, discuss what details led to the conclusions they reached. Finally, read students the actual captions (below) as a wrap-up. A) Dorothea Lange, 1936+ The caption reads: “Part of an impoverished family of nine on a New Mexico highway. Depression refugees from Iowa. Left Iowa in 1932 because of father's ill health. Father an auto mechanic laborer, painter by trade, tubercular. Family has been on relief in Arizona but refused entry on relief roles in Iowa to which state they wish to return. Nine children including a sick four-month-old baby. No money at all. About to sell their belongings and trailer for money to buy food. "We don't want to go where we'll be a nuisance to anybody." B) 1943+ The caption reads: “New York, New York+ Duke Ellington directs his band during a floor show at the Hurricane Ballroom”+ C) Roger Smith, 1943+ The caption reads: “New York, New York+ Street scene on 52nd Street”+ D) 1935+ The caption reads: “CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) boys at work, Prince George's County, MD”+ Helen Levitt, New York, detail, 1942. See if you can put these images in chronological order. Think about what you know about American history. Library of Congress, LC-USF34- 009749-E. Remember: A caption Segovia, Spain should include the who, what, where, when, and Library of Congress, LC-USW3- 023978-D [P&P]. why of the image. Library of Congress, LC-USF33-T01-000050-M3. Pretend someone is skimming a newspaper looking for a brief synopsis of each picture. Library of Congress, LC-USW3-031117-C. Discussion questions: What is going on in this picture? What do you see that make you say that? What other details might give you a clue about what time period this is? Now write a two-sentence caption for each image that describes what‟s going on in each picture. You can enhance your text by inferring information from the image, as long as you‟re able to explain logically how you arrived at that particular conclusion. One of Helen Levitt‟s strengths as a photographer was her natural ability to create perfectly composed photographs. With her typically monochromatic color scheme and simplistic scenes, they serve as an ideal introduction (or refresher) for themes like line and shape, and how they contribute to an overall composition. Georgia Performance Standards for Fine Arts Education VA5CU.2 Views and discusses selected artworks. a. Identifies elements, principle, themes, and/ or time period in a work of art. VA5AR.3 Explains how selected principles of design are used in an artwork to convey meaning and how they affect personal responses to and evaluation of the artwork. a. Uses art terms with emphasis on the elements of art: line, shape, form, color, space, value, texture. VA5PR.1 Creates artworks based on personal experience and selected themes. f. Produces artworks emphasizing one or more elements of art (e.g. color, line, shape, form, texture). Discuss the concepts of line and shape with your students. You can use the following handout as a starting point. Identify examples of line and shape within the classroom. Try using other images of Helen Levitt‟s (see the Resources section for further information+) Take it further. Talk about the impact of these lines and shapes on the overall composition but also on the significance of the image. How do they make your eye move across the picture plane? Do they highlight certain areas? Or lead your gaze in a particular direction? Do they change or enhance the meaning you get from a particular photograph? How do you think they do that? Move to the image at the bottom of the following page+ This photograph is one of Levitt‟s most well-known. Ask students to identify elements like line and shape that they notice, using the questions listed as an initial guideline. Discuss the overall composition and what the image makes them think about or feel. As an extension, have students create their own compositions, really focusing on ways of manipulating line and shape. This could be with a camera, like Levitt herself—even a simple pinhole version could be used for this purpose. Alternately students could do this exercise with pencil, charcoal or any 2D materials that would allow for a monochromatic image. Encourage students to discuss their work and how they considered line and shape when crating their final composition. Actual lines are ones you can see in the picture plane. They might form shapes. They can be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal, like the one made by the sidewalk, highlighted here. Implied lines aren‟t physically present as a line on the photo; they‟re ones that your mind creates when looking at an Segovia, Spain image+ See how the woman‟s arm seems to form an imaginary link with the child? New York, c. 1940, © Estate of Helen Levitt, 1999.8.2. Shapes are created by lines. They can be geometric shapes—shapes you‟re familiar with like circles and squares. They can also be irregular, or organic. These shapes might look more like spilt milk or a cloud. We can have negative shapes—filled with nothing (like the circle made by the boy with the ribbon here) or positive shapes, filled with something real you can touch, like the door that‟s making a rectangle+ New York, c. 1940, Telfair Museums, 1998.6. Ideas like line and shape make up what we call composition, or how all these elements are arranged together in one image. What lines do you see here? Which are real and which are implied? What shapes do you see? Are they positive or negative? How does your eye move across this image? Which areas are you New York, c. 1940, © Estate of Helen Levitt, 1999.8.1. drawn to? In this section you will find resources referred to in earlier materials as well as additional reference materials for you and your students. Library of Congress: Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black & White Negatives http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/fsa/ This searchable database from the Library of Congress is an invaluable resource. It provides an extensive visual record of life in America between 1935 and 1944. The photographs were taken as part of a national project for various agencies within the government. Atget Photography: Helen Levitt http://www.atgetphotography.com/The-Photographers/HelenLevitt.html This website offers a brief explanation of Helen Levitt‟s work and its significance as well as a library of her photographs, several of which are featured in Helen Levitt: In the Street. Helen Levitt: New York Streets 1938 to 1990s https://www.lensculture.com/articles/helen-levitt-helen-levittnew-york-streets-1938-to-1990s This slideshow includes a variety of images throughout Levitt‟s career, including many that appear in this exhibition as well as some later color photographs from as recent as the 1990s. It offers a simple way to view her photos without having to create a powerpoint. Helen Levitt Captured Perfect Moments, Unnoticed http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=102504602 This simple article, written, just after Levitt‟s death, sums up the artist‟s life and work in a nutshell+ Adapted for use at the fifth grade level in this guide, you can find the full length text at the link above. As an alternative, you can also listen to the original story that aired on All Things Considered. New York Times Obituary of Helen Levitt http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/30/arts/design/30levitt.html? pagewanted=all&_r=0 This obituary memorializes Helen Levitt, remembering her for the groundbreaking work she did in photography. It goes further into depth, providing information on films and books she produced, as well as giving insight from those closest to her. The Learning Network: What‟s Going on in this Picture? http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/category/lesson-plans/whatsgoing-on-in-this-picture/ This blog, part of the New York Times‟ Teaching & Learning section, offers visual rich images that are ideal for practicing students‟ critical analysis skills with VTS (visual thinking strategies)+ Each week the blog adds a new image and encourages classes to use it as a starting point. Visual Thinking Strategies http://www.vtshome.org/ As the name suggests, this website is focused on the basics and advantages of visual thinking strategies and particularly how to incorporate them into the classroom. It is full of invaluable resources to be used in many areas of the curriculum. Reading Photographs http://www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/677 This site, from the UNC School of Education, offers tips for teachers and students on how to „read‟ photos, including helpful leading questions and examples. This information is useful for all types of photographs in a variety of contexts. Visual Literacy: Writing about Photography http://twp.duke.edu/uploads/assets/photography.pdf This pdf, from the Duke Writing Studio, is aimed at adults but offers lots of helpful ideas to consider when „reading‟ and writing about photography. The Educators Guide will prepare you for tour content, but what about tour procedures? Keep things running smoothly with this list. Don‟t worry, we will go over these again on your arrival, but it does help if students have heard them from you first. Explore with your eyes, not your hands. Telfair Museums was created in order to share art and knowledge. We take special care of the art in our collections so that it can be shared for a long, long time. Even the gentlest touches can add up to harmful results. Point with your words, not your finger. Even if you know not to touch, if you point too closely to a part of a painting or sculpture, you might accidentally touch it. Instead of pointing, describe what you want to point out using words like “in the center,” “at the bottom,” “next to the corner,” “to the right,” “above,” and “below+” Walk and move carefully. Follow your docent. Take your time, watch where you are going, and hold onto handrails while using the stairs. Listen carefully, raise your hand, speak clearly but quietly. The museum is a place for thinking and learning. The same rules that make learning easier in a classroom are used here too. Eating, drinking, and chewing gum are not allowed. Photography is not allowed. Our docents are dedicated volunteers. Your prompt notification regarding cancellations or late arrival helps prevent mismanagement of the time they so generously donate. To cancel a tour, please call 912.790.8827 If you will be more than 10 minutes late, or are cancelling the day of the tour, please inform the Telfair Academy museum receptionist at 912.790.8871 or the Jepson Center receptionist at 912.790.8802. Before you enter the museum/get off the bus, divide into groups with an adult in each. When you check in at the admission desk, please provide the number of students and chaperones to the front desk staff and check backpacks, lunches, and jackets. Stay with the group you have been assigned to. Maintain discipline without interrupting the docent. Proximal control works great! Bathroom Breaks: Academy bathrooms are located in the basement level. There is a bathroom on the third floor in the touring area, but its use during tours interferes with student attentiveness. Reserve it for emergency use only. Please let us know about your experience. We are constantly evaluating and improving our programs. Your observations and ideas are a valuable resource. Please share them at 912.790.8827. Assembled in honor of the late Savannah native, scholar and MoMA curator Kirk Varnedoe (1946-2003), the Kirk Varnedoe Collection contains some of the finest examples of contemporary art in the Telfair‟s permanent collection. The Varnedoe Collection celebrates the life and legacy of Kirk Varnedoe through the presentation of works on paper created by the contemporary artists he most admired, including exemplary works by artists such as Jasper Johns, Chuck Close, Roy Lichtenstein, Jeff Koons, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, Kiki Smith, Richard Serra, Richard Avedon, Elizabeth Murray and many others. Telfair Museums presents Slavery and Freedom in Savannah in conjunction with the newly published book of the same title. The exhibition‟s images, documentary accounts and objects from Telfair Museums and other collections provide a deeper understanding of our collective American past. Viewed with a wider lens, pieces such as the neoclassical tea service are not simply prized possessions of a wealthy, white slaveholder, but also are objects held and polished under the watchful eye of a trained, enslaved laborer. The exhibition also presents objects that tell stories into the 20th century, highlighting Savannah-only histories and representing some contemporary interpretations of the African American experience in Savannah and America. The New York Accents exhibition brings together a wide variety of works that demonstrates the Telfair‟s, and Savannah‟s, various connections to New York over the last 200 years. Though the cities seem vastly different they have long shared a love of art and culture, each city housing some of the country‟s oldest major museums+ The story begins with the Telfair family, who often visited and bought decorative arts from New York and other northern hubs. Over the years the relationship grew, with the development of the Telfair‟s Savannah Art Club in the 1920s, attracting New York artists, and with prominent members of the art community like Gari Melchers and Kirk Varnedoe maintaining strong ties to both cities. The artworks collected here convey an aspect of the special connection these two historic cities share. As an educator, you are eligible for a special membership rate. Our $35 Educator‟s Membership entitles you to all of the following: Unlimited free admission to the Telfair Museums three sites [Telfair Academy, Jepson Center for the Arts, and Owens Thomas House] Invitations to special members-only events and lectures Discounted rates for art classes (for all ages) and children‟s summer camps 10* discount at the Telfair Museums‟ stores Eligibility to join museum member groups A one-time use guest pass It pays to join! Visit www.telfair.org or call 912.790.8866. This exhibition is organized by Telfair Museums and the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. The photographs in this exhibition are drawn from the permanent collections of both the Telfair