New York City
Not on view
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 8 3/4 × 6 1/2in. (22.2 × 16.5 cm) Image: 8 × 5 3/4in. (20.3 × 14.6 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Photography Committee
Rights and reproductions
Helen Levitt © Film Documents LLC
On her way to a school in East Harlem, where she briefly taught in 1937, Helen Levitt began photographing the children’s chalk drawings she chanced upon in the streets and on sidewalks. Between 1937 and 1945, she would take nearly two hundred close-up photographs of such transitory graffiti, recording it before it disappeared. New York City, one of these images, exemplifies Levitt’s ability to conjoin realism and lyrical beauty. In the photograph, a child’s scrawl on the stairs of a neighborhood stoop reads “A DECETIVE LIVES HERE,” presumably intended to mean “a detective lives here.” The endearing innocence of the child’s graphic simplicity—and spelling error—counters the implication of adult deception, personified by a detective’s characteristic stealth. By bearing witness to this anonymous youngster’s ephemeral markings, Levitt’s photograph gives voice to a child’s uncanny ability to see and speak the truth.