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


With a passion for abstract expressionism and a desire to change the world, Builder Levy majored in art at Brooklyn College (BA, 1964), where he studied painting with Ad Reinhardt and photography with Walter Rosenblum, who became a mentor. He earned an MA in art education at NYU, where he incorporated the study of the FSA photography program, Photo League, and Kamoinge Workshop, whose founding director was Roy DeCarava. Later, friendships with Paul Strand (with whom he lived for 10 days) and Helen Levitt, added insights into his role and possibilities as an artist. Working with teenagers as a NYC teacher for 35 years enriched his vision.

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

His work has been in over 325 exhibitions, including more than 60 one-person shows. His work was included 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 had solo shows at 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 his work, opened at the Ringling Museum of Art in 2015, and has been travelling since, including to the Museum of Fine Arts, FSU, Tallahassee; Huntington Museum of Art, in WV; and Miners Hall of Fame and Museum, Leadville, CO. His new exhibition, Humanity in the Streets, was shown at the Brooklyn Historical Society in 2019.

His work is in more than 80 collections 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.

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.”

—Naomi Rosenblum, from her essay Engaged with Life; Engaged with Art

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