Shot in the street: New exhibit explores life in 1960s Brooklyn through photos

Building a movement: Builder Levy documented this anti-Vietnam War protest in New York City.
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His photos bring Brooklyn into focus!

A new art exhibition will showcase a famed photographer’s gritty images of Kings County during the Civil Rights Era. “The Photographs of Builder Levy: Humanity in the Streets,” opening on April 26 at the Brooklyn Historical Society, captures the city’s physical and cultural transformation through the lens of a Brooklyn-bred shutterbug, according to the president of the Society.

“Builder’s photos are from the ’60s and ’70s, but they are certainly relevant today, in a time that we are feeling the push-and-pull of all kinds of political forces around us, and racial inequities that have continued to plague us,” said Deborah Schwartz. “It is very exciting to have a photographer that is focused on these issues.”

Levy’s work is an essential historical record of the turbulent era, according to Shwartz.

“His photographs cover a huge amount of territory, from everyday life to the really politically charged events of the 1960s,” she said. “He became interested in the way photography allowed him to focus attention on the civil rights movement, the Vietnam protests, the March on Washington, and street life in Brooklyn in the 1960s.”

The photographer will be at the Historical Society on May 2, along with fellow photojournalist Brian Palmer, for a conversation on documenting politically charged movements through the camera lens.

The exhibit was created in collaboration with the Pratt Institute, with students from a museum curation class choosing the images on display, according to their professor.

“The subject was chosen by the Historical Society, so it was given to us, but it was a good one,” said Karyn Zieve. “We went and visited with him. We looked through his work, and read about him. We learned about the history of photography at the time, and really created a narrative and sentence about his work.”

The 12-student class searched through hundreds of Levy’s photos, choosing 30 images that would create a visual narrative about his life and his work. Zieve said the group attempted to capture both Levy’s artistic activism, as well as his chronicle of the changing New York landscape.

“He took photos of civil rights, social activism, anti-war political activism. But, at the same time, he took a lot of photos on the streets of Brooklyn as it was changing,” she said. “So, we really blurred the lines between his activism and his documenting of the city.”

“The Photographs of Builder Levy” at the Brooklyn Historical Society [128 Pierrepont St. at Clinton Street in Brooklyn Heights, (718) 222–4111,]. On display April 26–Aug. 11; Wed–Sun, noon–5 pm. $10 suggested donation.

Reach reporter Aidan Graham at or by calling (718) 260–4577.
Updated 12:18 pm, April 29, 2019
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