About the Photographer
Leon Levinstein first photographed on the streets of New York with a hand-held camera in the 1940s and the city remained one of his regular subjects for over forty years. In conveying the activity of urban life and portraying the city's inhabitants, Levinstein created bold compositions with a graphic and direct impact. In the 1950s and 1960s, Levinstein pursued similar subject matter--and worked with a comparable on-the-fly approach--to the photographers now often described as the "New York School," including Garry Winogrand, William Klein, and Robert Frank. Nevertheless, he remains lesser known than his contemporaries and stayed at a remove from the New York art scene.
Starting in the 1960s, Levinstein spent time outside of the United States, traveling in Europe and other countries including Mexico and Haiti. Between 1977 and 1985, he made frequent trips to India and Nepal, during which he made many of the images held in MoCP's collection. While these images lack the formal complexity of some of his photographs taken in New York City, they capture the shape and energy of crowds and parades. Centering his compositions on clusters of people, or often groups of musicians, Levinsten depicted scenes busy with activity, while in a few instances he shot the image from an off-kilter angle, heightening the impression of people in motion.
Levinstein was born in Buckhannon, West Virginia. As a high school student he took painting classes at Maryland Institute of Art in Baltimore. In 1937, Levinstein started work as a freelance graphic designer and purchased his first camera a few years later. After serving in the army during World War II, Levinstein moved to New York City, where he began a job in advertising. He enrolled in his first photography course in 1947 at the New School with Alexey Brodovitch, and went on to study at the Photo League with social documentary photographer Sid Grossman. After Grossman left the Photo League, Levinstein continued studying with him independently through 1952. Although Levinstein made photographs regularly for multiple decades, he maintained his job in advertising and never pursued a career as an artist or as a professional photographer. Levinstein died in New York City in 1988.