Builder Levy

Photographer Builder Levy has been making photographs for more than 40 years against a dazzling variety of backgrounds. Not only did he make multiple trips to Appalachia, he also photographed in the inner-city communities where he worked as a New York City teacher of at-risk adolescents for 35 years; in the Central Asian Steppe of Mongolia; in Cuba; and back here at home at demonstrations running the gamut from the civil rights and peace marches of the 1960s to today's protest gatherings against the war in Iraq.

In the introduction to a new collection of his work Builder Levy, Photographer (A.R.T. Press, 2005), noted photography historian Naomi Rosenblum writes "…Builder Levy has made a significant contribution in blending together several directions that in photography are more commonly kept distinct. One is the documentation of social phenomena, usually done with the aim of increasing public awareness of otherwise neglected conditions of life and work. Another is street photography with its character of fortuitous accident. Still another is a concentration on the artistic possibilities of the medium. …Levy has been steadfast in his belief that, in addition to its narrative dimension, a photograph is an object with its own distinctive aesthetic character. His silver prints, which he alone produces, reveal the rich tonalities that are intrinsic to the medium. ”

Levy's photographs have graced the covers of Freedomways, a magazine that blazed the path for the struggle for civil rights and featured the writings of such icons of that struggle as Dr. W. E. B. DuBois and Paul Robeson. His photographs have been included in many publications in the United States and internationally, including three recent books Freedom, a Photographic History of the African American Struggle (Phaidon Press, 2002), Cityscapes: A History of New York Images, (Columbia University Press, 2001), and a Levy photograph is featured on the cover of Where We Stand, Class Matters, by bell hooks (Routledge Press, 2000). Levy’s photographs have appeared in more than 170 exhibitions worldwide, including more than 40 solo shows. His work is in more than 60 public and private collections throughout the world including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Levy received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Photography (in 1981) and an Alicia Patterson Foundation Fellowship to revisit coalfield Appalachia in 2004.

The humanitarian tradition of social documentary photography runs deep in Levy's education. He has a masters degree in art education from New York University, and a Bachelors of Arts from Brooklyn College where he studied painting with Ad Reinhardt (who started as a cartoonist for the magazine of the American Student Union in the 1930s and later became prominent in the NY contemporary art scene ) and photography with Walter Rosenblum (noted photographer and early member of the progressive Photo League). Levy's informal education includes his friendship since 1974 with Helen Levitt (well known photographer particularly of New York street scenes), and with Paul Strand (who studied with Lewis Hine, worked with the Photo League, and was responsible for some of the finest documentaries produced during the period of the Great Depression and the New Deal). Levy lived with Strand for 10 days in 1973, and the friendship continued until Strand's death in 1976.