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
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).
Levys 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
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.