Leon Levinstein at Columbia

Leon Levinstein (1910-1988) was born in West Virginia and attended high school and college in Baltimore. He worked in advertising during the 1930s, and joined the army during World War II, serving most of his time in Panama as a propeller repair mechanic. After the war, he moved to New York and worked again in advertising, focusing on art direction and graphic design. In the late 1940s he began studying photography at the Photo League and continued his studies at the New School for Social Research, working with master artists in the field such as Sid Grossman and Stuart Davis. In 1956 Levinstein had his first and only solo exhibition at Helen Gee’s Limelight Gallery, although he participated in a number of group shows during his lifetime. He received a fellowship in 1975 from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Despite his background in advertising, Levinstein never utilized photography for commercial purposes; his photography was always personal. He was recognized by peers and critics for his clandestine eye, his black-and-white images capturing off-guard the diverse ethnic and cultural populations of New York City. Levinstein’s candid views of everyday people are not always flattering, but they reveal a sense of vulnerability and naturalism that is all too human.

Between 2005 and 2012, Columbia University received a gift of 221 Levinstein photographs from Mr. Gary Davis. The majority of these images are of people and places in New York City, and date from the 1950s to the 1970s. The collection also includes a selection of images from Levinstein’s travels to Los Angeles and New Orleans, as well as Mexico and Portugal.

Consult this list of photographs by Levinstein in the Art Properties collection for more details about Columbia Libraries' holdings.  

The Levinstein collection is available for consultation by Columbia students, faculty, staff, and outside researchers, for curriculum-based and educational programs, research projects, and exhibition loans. For all requests and uses, contact Art Properties at artproperties@library.columbia.edu.

Print Resources:

For more information about Levinstein and his work, consult the sample bibliography below. Links to records in CLIO have been provided for books in the Columbia University Libraries. This is not a complete bibliography; researchers also should consult periodical indexes and databases for more information. All books in Avery Fine Arts unless otherwise indicated.

Hostetler, Lisa. Street Seen: The Psychological Gesture in American Photography, 1940-1959. Milwaukee: Milwaukee Art Museum; Munich: DelMonico Books/Prestel, 2009. 
NH105 H79   

Shamis, Bob. The Moment of Exposure: Leon Levinstein. Ottawa : National Gallery of Canada, 1995.
NH32 L5687 Sh17    

Shamis, Bob. Leon Levinstein. Göttingen: Steidl; New York: Howard Greenberg Gallery, 2014.
Avery-LC TR642 .L46 2014g   

Stourdzé, Sam, et al. Leon Levinstein: Obsession. Paris: Editions Léo Scheer, 2000.
NH32 L5687 St76    

[Woman with Black Hat & Silver Decoration], no date, gelatin silver print (2006.4.11)
5th Avenue & 53rd Street (Flamboyant Person Walking with Others in Front of St. Thomas Episcopal Church), ca. 1970, resin coated print (2008.4.30)
East Harlem (Sidewalk Street Scene), ca. 1955, gelatin silver print, mounted on board (2010.3.10)
Prospect Park ([Hasidic Family Lying on Grass in Park]), no date, gelatin silver print (2007.5.22)
[Man Wearing Crucifix], no date, gelatin silver print (2009.4.10)
Lower East Side ([Old Woman in a Window]), ca. 1952-53, gelatin silver print (2005.4.4)
[Crowd in Street, San Gennaro Sign in Window], 1964, gelatin silver print on resin coated paper (2007.5.5)

Image Credits: All works by Leon Levinstein (1910-1988), Art Properties, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University in the City of New York, Gift of the Gary Davis Collection.