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A Way of Seeing.
Revised and Expanded Edition.

Photographs by Helen Levitt. Introduction by James Agee. Designed and edited, with afterword by Marvin Hoshino.
Film Documents LLC, New York, 2019. In English. 120 pp., 63 tritone illustrations, 9x7½".

First Edition Thus (Film Documents LLC). Revised and Expanded, 2019. 

In the years since it was first published, A Way of Seeing has been prized as a classic among photographic books, and during Helen Levitt’s lifetime (1913–2009) two revised versions appeared. This new edition returns the book to its original compact size, with all the original images, as well as additional ones made during the same years. The new reproductions are based on a search for the best available prints and negatives. 

Chosen as one of the great photobooks by Andrew Roth, The Book of 101 Books,  Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century and Martin Parr and Gerry Badger, The PhotoBook, A History, Volume I.

"Levitt's photographs are beautiful—major underrated works. Like Henri Cartier-Bresson, she achieves a rare balancing act: her pictures have sentiment without being sentimental, always maintaining an objective distance.” — Martin Parr and Gerry Badger.

"Helen Levitt was the first American photographer to fully comprehend the essence of Henri Cartier-Bresson's photographic message and put it into practice. Like Cartier-Bresson, she understood how to combine intuition and intellect to forge sophisticated, lyrical compositions from commonplace events.” — The New York Times

A Way of Seeing—despite its revered status as a true photobook classic—has endured somewhat of a rough ride. Levitt herself was dissatisfied with the first edition and only reluctantly agreed to two later revised editions published in 1981 (Horizon Press) and 1990 (Duke University Press). Originally published by the Museum of Modern Art in 1965, the text and images were already dated by about two decades; from the vantage point of the mid-60s, the 40s looked like ancient history. Agee was long dead, and Levitt had moved on to film. However, after undergoing three editions, each with different editing, sequencing, and design, A Way of Seeing has achieved what very few photobooks have: widespread, sustained appeal for over 50 years.

Nearly thirty years since its last iteration, A Way of Seeing finally returns thanks to Marvin Hoshino, Levitt's former assistant, book designer, editor, and photographer in his own right. This new edition not only complements the earlier ones; it introduces the work to a new generation. Having restored the book to its original, intimate size, Hoshino has also taken pains to reproduce the photographs with the greatest possible fidelity to the best available negatives, thus restoring their mostly uncropped framing and tonal range. As Hoshino describes in the book's afterword, Levitt never liked the way her photographs appeared in gravure and grew increasingly uncomfortable with the cropping and layout. As for the edit and sequence, no two editions are identical, including this latest one. Hoshino has added to the original fifty, inserting a baker's dozen of new images into the original sequence to fit with Agee's text and to better align with, as he puts it, Levitt's "later view of herself."

Indeed, A Way of Seeing has become something of a living document, which is fitting given Hoshino's description of Levitt's gift: "her ability to capture, from a situation, a gesture, or a glance, the fleeting and most intimate of our emotions. Feelings that come and go through the day, but return again, embody, as Helen showed, the true nature of each human being. Agee understood the importance of this early work of hers, and he had the wit to say so five decades before it was anything like the accepted view."

Read Sybil Miller's interview "A Brief Chat with Helen Levitt and Some Other Things" published in photo-eye Magazine in 2008. 

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