Helen Levitt

Helen Levitt - Girls and Bubbles, c. 1945. Gelatin silver print, printed c. 1970, 6 13/16 x 9 3/4" (17.3 x 24.7 cm). Gift of Janice Levitt. © 2010 The Estate of Helen Levitt, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

First is this is a black and white photograph by Helen Levitt. Second it is an image of a sidewalk, a street and a brick wall; four young girls walk on the sidewalk parallel to the road and brick wall. The brick wall supports a train rail bed; it is massive and the bricks are oversized and irregular. The wall is in deep perspective and the photographer has framed or cropped the image to emphasize the wall’s vanishing point. The buildings in the distance are hazier, all the detail and contrast is on the girls, the bubbles and the bricks.

The girls in the photograph are not facing the camera; the girls are looking in the direction the brick wall to five floating soap bubbles rising above the street. The street is between the girls and the bubbles. The girl nearest to the street is wearing shoes and a light skirt with no blouse or perhaps she wears a halter-dress. Her hair is up. Her right arm is on her hip. The next girl is the smallest, the youngest of the four, she too wears shoes, a light dress and her hair is in a ponytail. The next girl has blond hair, also up, she is wearing dark shorts with a dark and light striped t-shirt, socks and shoes. The fourth girl on the sidewalk, furthest away from the street, is the tallest and the heaviest. She wears a dress with dots (or small flowers). She wears socks and shoes; her hair is shorter than the other girls. The girl in the shorts and stripped t-shirt is white the other girls are black. They might be ages 6-12. All their heads are turned to watch the soap bubbles – they are not looking where they are going. The girls are not in danger though; there are no cars on the street. The mood of the photograph seems to say, “this is a lazy, warm summer afternoon just right for an ice cream and walk around the block.”

The photographer is walking on the street too. Perhaps she is following the girls without them knowing, waiting, looking for images. Where do the soap bubbles come from? Is there someone outside the camera frame? This makes for mystery and tension, an unknown blower and a “burst”. In this photograph Helen Levitt is photographing what is before her while capturing what is beside her and what is about to be.

I chose the photo of Girls and Bubbles by Helen Levitt for a personal reason; I have walked this sidewalk too; in 2008 I went to NYC to visit the art galleries as well as the Graffiti Wall of Fame just on the other side of this massive brick wall, the Park Ave Trunk Line, at E 106th St & Park in East Harlem.

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