March 2013



Cuba, View from Hotel Telegrafo, Old American Cars, Old Havana, 2004

Artist’s Statement

Ever since its revolution in 1959, I had wanted to visit Cuba. In 2004 I finally made the trip. I was not disappointed. I found the people open and friendly wherever I went. I was told that the old American cars I saw in the streets were kept running with modern Czech and Russian engines. I was told that out of economic necessity, since 1990, Cuba has had to use ecologically sustainable farming practices. And everywhere I went there were school children.

These photographs made in Cuba are part of my “Developing Nations” project, a work in progress that currently includes fourteen countries on four continents. These countries have been seeking various paths to overcoming the effects of past exploitative relationships with the industrialized western world. In addition, Cuba has had to deal with a long-lasting embargo imposed by the United States. I am interested in the social and natural landscape. My focus has been on discovering hardscrabble beauty and a joie de vivre in the quotidian lives of the people.

—-Builder Levy



Intertwining the traditions of fine art, social documentary, and street photography, Builder Levy has been making photographs that celebrate the human spirit for more than half a century. He has been awarded fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (2008), the Alicia Patterson Foundation (2004), the Puffin Foundation (2001), and the National Endowment for the Arts (1982). He is also the recipient of a Furthermore publication grant (2003) and two commissions from the Appalachian College Association (1995, 2002). Monographs of his work are Images of Appalachian Coalfields, with a foreword by Cornell Capa (1989), Builder Levy Photographer, with an introduction by Naomi Rosenblum (2005), and soon to be published Appalachia USA. He published a limited edition Stonetone Portfolio, Life of the Appalachian Coal Miner in 1976.

Levy’s work has appeared in more than two hundred exhibitions, including more than fifty one-person shows: in New York City, throughout the United States, and around the world. More than 70,000 people saw his exhibition Images of Appalachian Coalfields at the West Virginia State Museum in Charleston in the Spring of 1991; it travelled from 1989 to 1997. In 2008, the High Museum of Art showed some of Levy’s iconic photographs in Road to Freedom: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement, 1956–1968; and the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City featured his photographs in Mongolia: Beyond Chinggis Khan, in 2006–2007. He is included in the Asia Society’s Coal + Ice, which opened at the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, Beijing, in the fall of 2011 and will travel to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Shanghai later in 2013. Developing Nations, Levy’s latest project and a solo exhibition at the Flomenhaft Gallery in New York in 2012, was reviewed in ArtNewsOctober 2012.

His photographs are in more than fifty public collections in the U. S. and abroad, among them the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the High Museum of Art; the International Center of Photography; the Brooklyn Museum; the Museum of the City of New York; the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; and the La Bibliothèque nationale in Paris.

His photographs are featured in more than twenty books, including Harlem, A Century in Images (2010), 100 New York Photographers (2009), Freedom (2002), and Cityscapes: A History of New York in Images (2001). Thirty-two of Levy’s photographs appeared in Coal Country: Rising Up against Mountaintop Removal Mining,published by Sierra Club Books (2009), and Road to Freedom: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement, 1956–1968 (2008). He was the featured artist in the Berea College Literary quarterly, Appalachian Heritage, Spring 2010, which published twenty-two of his photographs. His Appalachian work was featured with an interview inSouth X Southeast Photomagazine in February 2012. His Venezuelan and Brazilian photographs were featured with an interview in Double Take magazine, Fall/Winter 2007.

Among Levy’s major projects are: life in inner-city communities (where he was a New York City teacher of at-risk adolescents for thirty-five years), Appalachia USA (1968–2009), civil rights and peace demonstrations in the 1960s and new millennium, and Mongolia and other developing nations (on four continents).

Builder Levy was born in Tampa, Florida, September 23, 1942, and was raised in New York City. At Brooklyn College, where he received a BA in art (1964), Levy studied photography with Walter Rosenblum, painting with Ad Reinhardt, and art history with Milton Brown. At NYU where he received an MA in art education (1966), he studied metal welding sculpture, print-making, the F.S.A. and the Photo League. He gained greater insight into his role and possibilities as an artist through his close friendships with Paul Strand and Helen Levitt in the 1970s.