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


BUILDER LEVY was born in Florida in 1942 and raised in Brooklyn. He received a BA in art from Brooklyn College in 1964, where he studied painting with Ad Reinhardt, photography with Walter Rosenblum, who became a mentor, and art history with Milton Brown. He researched the Photo League, the photography program of the FSA, and the Kamoinge Workshop (founded by Roy DeCarava) in conjunction with a master’s degree in art education at NYU in 1966. Close friendships with Helen Levitt and Paul Strand added insights into his role and possibilities as an artist. Working as a NYC teacher of inner-city teens for 35 years also enriched his vision.

Among numerous awards, he received fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (2008), Alicia Patterson Foundation (2004), and National Endowment of the Arts in Photography (1981).

His books are: Images of Appalachian Coalfields, foreword by Cornell Capa, Temple University Press, Builder Levy Photographer, essay by Naomi Rosenblum, A.R.T. Press, Appalachia USA, foreword by Denise Giardina, published by David R. Godine, and Humanity in the Streets, New York City, 1960s–1980s, foreword by Deborah Willis, published by Damiani. His work is included in over forty other books as well as in several films, most recently, Raul Peck’s I am Not your Negro about James Baldwin and his relationship with Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers, and The Vietnam War PBS series, directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.

His photographs are in more than 80 collections including the Sir Elton John Photography Collection, The Do Good Fund of Southern Photography, International Center of Photography, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, High Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art Watson Library, Brooklyn Museum, Museum of the City of New York, Chrysler Museum of Art, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Victoria and Albert Museum, Ruhrland Museum, and the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

He has had more than 250 exhibitions, including more than 60 one-person shows. He was featured in the exhibitions Road to Freedom, Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement, 1956–1968, High Museum of Art, Women and the Civil Rights Movement, Chrysler Museum of Art, Mongolia: Beyond Chinggis Khan, a two-photographer exhibit at the Rubin Museum of Art. Levy’s solo exhibit at the Arnika Dawkins Gallery booth at AIPAD—The Photography Show 2017 was noted by Roberta Smith in her New York Times Review, (3/31/17). He was included in the recent Peter Fetterman Gallery show, The Art of the Platinum Print. He was in the exhibition Everyday Beauty at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (July 1017–Jan 2018). He was included in [Martin Luther] King in New York at the Museum of the City of New York (January–June 2018), and also recently at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans in the exhibition One Place Understood, Photographs from the Do Good Fund. His more than four-decade project, Appalachia USA, opened at the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, FL in 2015, and has been travelling since. It goes to the Huntington Museum of Art in West Virginia in October 2018.

His photographs and/or articles about Levy have appeared in more than 200 periodicals, including on five front covers and two back covers of the historic cultural quarterly, Freedomways.

“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 Feb 2014

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–distinct approaches often kept separate by so many others– “to produce works of power and beauty.”
—Naomi Rosenblum

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