JON LEVI - LEVI AFTER DARK
Like his works, Jon’s life thus far has been one interesting narrative after another. His works are colorful, thought provoking, and they push boundaries. Check his story below.
Where are you from? Where have you been?
I was born in New Jersey in ‘68. Oh man, I’ve been around the world a few places. My favorite place? Israel, most definitely Israel. There was a period when I made great money and had a choice to go anywhere in the world, I just kept going back to Israel 6 times in 10 years. I could not get enough of Israel. The light there is like nowhere else in the world. You just can’t take a bad photograph there.
How would you describe your visual style?
Color. Lots of color. Even in black and white. Dramatic, narrative based images to evoke a thought, sort of to poke at you, make you think. I try to find icons that people can relate to. Composition is very important to me. Photography today seems lost. It’s frustrating to find work that inspires me because so much of photography today is based on instant gratification with no background, just the subject in full focus and nothing much else. I find myself often digressing back to the works of the Old Masters. Man did they know how to tell a story.
Do you get photographer’s block? If so, how do you overcome that?
Shoot every single fucking day. Because light changes everything. You’ll be able to discover. Even if you are not feeling up to it. Find something and JUST shoot.
Tell us about your career. How did you get into it?
I started as an artist, a painter, steel sculptor. I picked up a polaroid in ‘74. I did darkroom work in HS. Shot my first nude when I was 15. I didn’t really see photography as a viable direction into itself until well into college at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Because back then I used photography as a tool to capture images that I would later draw, paint and sculpt. I couldn’t afford the models so I’d shoot them instead. Print the images, paint from the images, heck even include the actual prints into the paintings and paint over them. Today my photography has this push/pull tension. My personal work is the opposite of my commercial work which is polished to fit my client’s expectations as it is for anybody else who works professionally.
What kind of pictures do you take? What’s your favorite and why?
Personally I shoot lots of nudes in narrative backgrounds, landscapes, on location. I shoot lots of everything else from fashion, weddings, children, pets, maternity all the way to product photography. I LOVE shooting children when it comes to income because their spontaneity is second to none. But shooting nudes is my favorite, it goes way back to my training as a figurative artist. It’s very tough to make money shooting nudes unfortunately.
What was the moment you decided to become a photographer?
I did have an “aha” moment when I was 20, I realized photography could be a medium into itself. That was when I discovered the camera is a an excellent vehicle to introduce myself into situations I don’t find normally myself into because I’m deaf. And wow what a vehicle it is. First I used it to explore totems of my childhood and to some extent I find myself still doing it today.
What is the strangest situation you’ve ever faced as a photographer?
I can recall a few, some were hairy, some just downright bizarre. I was in Arizona a few years ago to shoot a nude model, Becca at a fantastic pool location only to discover a Fellini-esque scene. The model’s ex showed up drunk. I realized that I better make friends with him and make him the grip and prop man to keep him busy. Becca’s appeasing him not to make a scene. IN comes the Orkin man, straight out of central casting to fumigate the house. Over the fence next door is a kid bouncing furiously on the trampoline to stare at my naked model. Bounce, I see his head, disappears, I see his head again. I thought, “fuck this can’t get any better.” The tension was like sliced butter. The pictures that came out of this scene was AMAZING. Another one predates my life as a photographer: When I was a child in the late ‘70’s this dapper gentleman came to dinner with friends. The hostess for lack of coasters for drinks passed out polaroids to place our drinks on. I stared wide eyed as the polaroids were of fantastic women in all kinds of fashion. It wasn’t till years later till I realized the dapper gentleman was Helmut Newton.
Photography is competitive. How do you stand out?
Just be me.