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
Artist’s Statement

I grew up in a family that encouraged art and believed the world needed to be changed. By the 1960s, I thought of myself as an abstract expressionist, trying to make art like de Kooning, Rauschenberg, and Chamberlain: full of directed spontaneity, raw energy, sensuality, and gritty vitality that spoke to me of real life. At that time, people in our nation were marching in the streets for civil rights at home and for peace in Vietnam. In communities throughout America, people were standing up for their humanity and dignity and struggling for social and economic justice.

As an artist, I needed to find a way to have a direct connection to these and other social realities, including those experienced in my thirty-five years as a New York City teacher of at-risk adolescents. My explorations in paint and steel left me unsatisfied because they did not sufficiently express what was in my heart and mind, nor adequately reflect the world outside. Making photographs was different. With the camera I was able to immerse myself directly into real life itself. I could abstract, compose, and intensify aspects of often chaotic, fluid reality within the rectangle of my viewfinder. With the release of the shutter, I could begin to physically create a new consciousness in and of the world. In the darkroom, I could finalize the process in the making of a photographic print.

I have been inspired by the many great photographers who, for more than a century, had been creating work grounded in realism infused with an intense humanity, among them Eugène Atget, Lewis Hine, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paul Strand, Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Helen Levitt, W. Eugene Smith, Roy DeCarava, and Robert Frank. I have striven to be a part of and contributor to that continuum.

—Builder Levy