Photographer’s Spotlight: Michael Leviton

Brooklyn-based writer/musician Michael Leviton has only just begun exploring photography, but already his impressive, particularly character-driven portraits are catching attention.

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How did you begin exploring photography? Is it something you’ve always done?

I’ve been a writer since I was a child and a musician since I was a teenager, but I only started taking pictures two years ago.

Friends lent me lights and cameras and came over to model for me in my apartment. Photography took over my brain. Faces don’t look like they used to. It’s like when I first learned to play music; records I’d listened to a thousand times sounded different.

Who do you shoot? What do you look for in a subject?

I rarely portray people as they really are, so I shoot people who can play characters or extreme versions of themselves. It’s best when the person shares my aesthetic and romantic fixations, wants to inhabit the same fantasies.

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What are your intentions with your work in photography? Do you ever think of expanding to film?

I don’t have a particular plan. But I’d definitely like more collaborators (stylists, hair, and makeup artists) and access to beautiful clothes and locations. I’d like to shoot more people outside my own world of friends and acquaintances.

What do you shoot with?

I shoot 35mm 400 film on a Canon A-1 or AE-1 Program, or a Minolta SRT-100. I sometimes shoot with a Canon 60D digital camera as well, but I’m using it less and less.

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What inspires you visually? Are there other visual artists that move and drive your own work?

I’ve always loved portraits of Old Hollywood stars and jazz musicians. As far as I’m concerned, humans have never look better than that.

I’m stuck on noir, horror, and melodrama movies from the 1930’s through the 1960’s. I like that particular portrayal of romance, sex, masculinity, femininity. You see people driven mad with love or lust or both. You see people destroying each other’s lives for a thrill. Sometimes they destroy themselves. No one intended those movies to be realistic. They’re fantasies, even the tragedies. There’s romance and sexiness in the tragedy.

I also love EC Horror Comics from the 40’s and 50’s and Marvel Romance Comics. Have you ever seen these romance comics? In the 60’s, Stan Lee wrote romance stories aimed at young women readers. The love stories usually end badly. They feel surprisingly similar to horror comics.

Is there something non-visual that you use as an added inspiration in your photographic work? Like music, for instance.

I listen mostly to very old music: jazz, early rock and roll, blues, and striptease music from between the 1930’s and the early 1960’s. We listen to it when shooting and I find that the photos do feel like that music.

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Do you find it difficult to balance your work as a photographer with the work you do in other arenas?

No one describes me as balanced.

What is your WILD Wish?

I’ve always thought it would be nice if I could control people’s minds.

text by: Hillary Sproul

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