if you can't tell, my fasincation with new york city is endless.
i'd like to start a series of intermittent posts on ways of seeing the city, of things that have enriched and expanded my experience of the place, of examples of other people's deep love for it. it makes sense that such a stimulating, challenging, beautiful place has inspired so much great work.
let's start out with a film. here, photographer helen levitt brings to life the subjects she was most famous for celebrating: the common inhabitants of the city in their daily lives.
"the streets of the poor quarters of great cities are, above all, a theatre and a battleground. There, unaware and unnoticed, every human being is a poet, a masker, a warrior, a dancer; and in his innocent artistry he projects, against the turmoil of the street, an image of human existence." h.levitt j.agee
this film is about street life: brief moments of conversation, couples gently engaged, people and animals, the elderly scolding, but mostly the young at play; it's a small city here, but alive; these are images of life. the filmmakers capture moments of the most honest behaviour, managing to make the smallest gestures beautiful. whether it's a toddler running furiously down the street, a woman walking with a mop swinging loudly, or someone idly looking out the window, dragging from a cigarette, levitt and agee manage to pinpoint moments of pure unconscious action.
watching this, i'm reminded of edison's actualities but here the camera doesn't hold back, an objective observer of the city's happenings. and whereas edison's brief documents celebrate bridge openings, theatre shows, automobiles and busy avenues, 'in the street' we take the point of view of children, of parents, of hangers-around. we become active participants in the games, someone walking through the crowd, someone sitting on the stoop. the camera is mobile here, intimate; right in the middle of the action, wandering as our eyes would. and seldom are people merely strolling, no, this street is full of activity, this is where everyone is looking, sitting by, leaning out the window to see what's going on.
there's something about the celebration of the everyday, of the overlooked, that i really admire. when you're in new york there's a sense that everyone has a story, has a real life—a struggle and a joy and a journey; that's why people go there. i feel like this film really supports that idea, captures it: that, of the millions of inhabitants in a city, each one is important, interesting and beautiful. it's a nice thought, and one i'm glad they've left us.