“All over the city on streets and walks and walls the children . . . have established ancient, essential and ephemeral forms of art, have set forth in chalk and crayon the names and images of their pride, love, preying, scorn, desire. . . . The Lady in this House is Nuts. . . . Lois I have gone up the street. Don’t forget to bring your skates. . . . Ruby loves Max but Max hates Ruby. . . . And drawings, all over, of . . . ships, homes . . . western heroes . . . and monsters . . . which each strong shower effaces.”
So wrote James Agee in 1939. He shared this fascination with children’s street drawings and messages with his friend Helen Levitt. Here now are over one hundred of her photographs, made in the years between 1938 and 1948. Most of these pictures have never before been published. They have been selected and arranged by the photographer and carefully reproduced.
Robert Coles has written especially for this book an essay on the imaginative live of children and of a time when “. . . children still had some visual independence, some keen-eyed interest in laying pictorial claim to the world around them. . . . I have not seen scenes such as Helen Levitt offers in my wanderings through America’s city streets twenty and thirty and forty years after these were taken. They offer, then, a look backward—though they are also timeless in certain aspects. For children will never really stop being tempted by their imaginative faculties to show and tell—to let others see what they find themselves conceiving in thought and fantasy and dream.”