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Atlanta: Builder Levy, A retrospective at Arnika Dawkins Gallery

Arnika Dawkins Fine Art Gallery recently put together a retrospective of Builder Levy‘s work. The show spanned his entire career, from his early work following the peace marches of the Civil Rights era in the late 1960s to the street demonstrations of the new millenium. 

Forty years separate these two bodies of work, and yet, Levy’s steadfast belief in the power of documenting the struggles of real people resonates all along.

Mr. Levy studied art and photography at Brooklyn College. When he was not studying, he was supporting public demonstrations, feeling very much that his art needed to reflect what was happening in the world, out in the streets. He later became a public school teacher and taught at-risk students for 35 years in New York City.

Levy’s work is in the vein of the great documentarian photographers before him. Like his predecessors, the power of his images emanates from the longevity and the resilience on which he builds his work.

Photographer Duane Michals comments on the book Builder Levy: Photographer, “Levy is not hip or cool or a trendy photo boytoy of the fashionista art magazines. He is, however, a compassionate photojournalist in the grand tradition of Lewis Hine and Dorothea Lange.”

For his series on the Appalachia, he returned countlessly during his free time and summers to the coal country. The Appalachian series offers raw portraits of coal miners – “Toby Moore, Kentucky, 1970,” is particularly striking – and realistic scenes from everyday life in and outside the mine. “Dora Antoinette Oglesby in her mother’s bedroom,” gives us a glimpse of the interiors of a miner’s family through the reflection of a mirror. In “Williamson, Mingo County, West Virginia, 1971,” a sign reads ‘Prepare to meet God” as wagons of coal pass by. The image is powerful in its simplicity.

During the retrospective’s opening, Levy remarked on the importance of spending time in a place as a photographer, “to feel and understand it intellectually but also visually.” This is true, said Levy, in remote places – his retrospective shows work in the Mongolian steppe and Cuba – but also in the very familiar ones.

In one of his signature images, “Pigeons, Bushwick, Brooklyn, 1987,” Levy captured a flock of pigeons soaring into a cloudless sky above a depressed area of Brooklyn where he worked and taught photography workshops for many years. The scene outside his window never felt right to capture until one late afternoon, he said, when everything seemed to fall in place: the winter light hitting the factory’s windows and the wings of the birds at the same time in a magical moment. The young man walking away was one of his students that he sent out. The human presence makes the scene complete. Sometimes the magic needs a little help.


Retrospective, Builder Levy
Arnika Dawkins Gallery

Photography Fine Art
4600 Cascade Road
404 333 0312





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