Builder Levy
“Photographer Builder Levy’s Appalachia USA (David R. Godine) does for today’s coal miners what Walker Evans did for sharecroppers and tenant farmers in the Dust Bowl.” —Vanity Fair
Bio Summary


(b. 1942, Tampa, FL, raised in Brooklyn, NY, and currently lives in NYC)

With an aesthetic grounded in realism infused with an intense humanity, Levy’s hand printed gold toned gelatin silver print and platinum print photographs blend social documentary, fine art, and street photography “to produce works of power and beauty.” (From the essay Engaged with Life; Engaged with Art, Builder Levy Photographer, by Naomi Rosenblum).

Initially thinking of himself as an abstract expressionist painter and sculptor, Levy majored in art at Brooklyn College, where he studied painting with Ad Reinhardt, art history with Milton Brown, and photography with Walter Rosenblum (a leader of the Photo League in 1940s and early 1950s), who became a mentor and friend. Levy earned a master’s degree in art education at NYU, where, he did metal welding junk sculpture, and incorporated the study of the FSA photography program, the Photo League, and the Kamoinge Workshop (whose founding director was Roy DeCarava), for a term paper on the creation of a social documentary art photography workshop for youth. Friendships with Paul Strand (with whom he lived for ten days in 1973) and Helen Levitt, added insights into, and understanding of his role as an artist photographer. In addition, Levy’s work with at-risk teens, as a New York City Teacher for 35 years, enriched his life and his vision.

Photographer Builder Levy was awarded fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, Alicia Patterson Foundation, National Endowment of the Arts, Puffin Foundation, a Furthermore publication grant, two commissions from the Appalachian College Association and, in 2019, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Brooklyn College Alumni Association.

The four hard-covered books of his photographs are: Images of Appalachian Coalfields, foreword by Cornell Capa; Builder Levy Photographer, introduction by Naomi Rosenblum; Appalachia USA, foreword by Denise Giardina; and Humanity in the Streets: New York City, 1960s–1980s, foreword by Deborah Willis.

Included in over 270 exhibitions, Levy’s work was in SHEGO/HEGO/EGO – McEvoy Family Collection, Salon d’Honneur, Paris Photo 2018; Road To Freedom: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement, 1956–1968, High Museum of Art; Everyday Beauty, Smithsonian NMAAHC; Women and the Civil Rights Movement, Chrysler Museum of Art; Mongolia: Beyond Chinggis Khan, Rubin Museum of Art; King in New York, Museum of the City of NY; and The Art of the Platinum Print, Peter Fetterman Gallery. He has had more than 60 solo exhibitions, including at: Arnika Dawkins Gallery at AIPAD 2017; OK Harris Gallery, Flomenhaft Gallery, the University of Kentucky Art Museum; West Virginia State Museum–The Cultural Center; Knoxville Museum of Art; and the Doris Ulmann Galleries, the art museum of Berea College. Levy’s show, Appalachia USA, spanning four decades of life in coalfield Appalachia, opened at the Ringling Museum of Art in 2015, and has been travelling since, including to the Museum of Fine Arts, Florida State University, Tallahassee; Huntington Museum of Art, in WV; and Miners Hall of Fame and Museum, Leadville, CO. His show, Humanity in the Streets, curated by the Pratt Institute Museology class, spring 2019, was exhibited at the Brooklyn Historical Society in 2019.

More than 80 collections contain Builder Levy’s photographs, including that of Sir Elton John, Nion McEvoy, International Center of Photography, High Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, Chrysler Museum of Art, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Smithsonian NMAAHC, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum of the City of New York, Huntington Museum of Art, Victoria and Albert Museum, Ruhrland Museum, and Bibliotheque Nationale.

Levy is currently working on a book (his fifth) of his new millennium demonstration photographs, including those of the recent Black Lives Matter and anti-Asian hate protests, justice marches for women, LGBTQ, immigrants, workers, the environment and against climate change; along with his civil rights and peace demonstrations work of the 1960s.

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