New York Photo Review
NYPR Archives - 2010

In Passing: Evelyn Hofer, Helen Levitt, Lilo Raymond

Three women photographers of note passed away in 2009: two of exceptional talent, one of near genius. Evelyn Hofer, Lilo Raymond and Helen Levitt are each commemorated in an intimate exhibition currently on display at the main branch of the New York Public Library.

Of the three, Helen Levitt was the greatest.

She was, par excellence, the photographer of feelings for which there are no names.

No one in the entire history of photography was as adept at making inner states visible. Even the great Cartier-Bresson, her mentor and inspiration, cannot touch her in this – she is that singular.

So subtle and nuanced is her work that it sets her apart from all others who used the same subject matter and venues. Street photography, a genre that lends itself to the obvious and superficial, to description alone, was her métier, but it is not what her people are doing – the games, the conversations, the glances – but what they are experiencing inwardly that is the true subject of her work. For even in that most public place, the street, their inner lives resonate with a fullness and complexity amazing to behold.

In a series of 5 by 7 black and white vintage prints, we have one strange, remarkable, fragile human story after another. And in the small sampling on view at the Public Library we have the whole argument for photography’s place among the arts; namely, that it is a medium whose power to describe the outside often reveals the inside.

Famously collaborating with the likes of Mary McCarthy and V.S Pritchett on books celebrating Florence, London, Dublin, and Spain, Evelyn Hofer was first and foremost a travel photographer. Combining technical prowess with a finely tuned sensitivity to what Lawrence Durrell called ‘the spirit of place’, Hofer was herself a displaced person whose parents sought refuge from the Nazis. One of those photographers whose personality is subsumed by the medium, Hofer nevertheless managed to bring a certain personal warmth to her pictures that made them more than postcard perfect. She lingered over the details of things with a solemn, straightforward, yet loving, gaze, rendering them in the sharp, deep focus tonalities only the large format view camera could provide.

A photographer of exquisite emptiness, whose spare, spartan sensibility and restrained treatment of objects are reminiscent of the painter Giorgio Morandi, Lilo Raymond was another German who found a refuge and a future in the Americas. Starting relatively late, she became known in the l970’s for her refined handling of light and space, her particular vision most fully conveyed in high key images that hover airily in delicate gray and off-white tones.

An exhibition in which there is not a single false note, In Passing is not to be missed. One masterful image after another is presented in a modest, quiet, understated way that puts to shame the bloated, self-aggrandizing tendencies of many shows these days.

Lastly, it is a moving tribute to three wonderful talents who once passed our way

In Passing: Evelyn Hofer, Helen Levitt, Lilo Raymond

Stokes Gallery
Fifth Ave & 42nd St.
Midtown         Map

917 275 6975

Tuesday, March 2 to
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Hours: Mon, Thur-Sat, 11 to 6; Tues - Wed, 11 to 7:30