ABOVE: DANIELLE LEVITT. IMAGE COURTESY OF WIGSCO, LLC
Photographer Danielle Levitt has crafted a career and a body of work that spans the arenas of art, fashion, and pop culture—and simultaneously combines all three. "With the camera, it's an entry point. The camera allows me to do this, but what I did was to find people that were interesting looking, that had great style, they had a way about them.. I would use photography as a means to connect with them; speaking with them and getting their confidence, so I could photograph them," Levitt says.
The self-taught, New York-based photographer is the subject of the new documentary Danielle, now airing on WIGS, the YouTube channel featuring female-led original series, short films, and documentaries. Directed by Michael Sharkey, Danielle provides a behind-the-scenes look at Levitt's artistic motivation and creative process. It captures, in-depth, the production of Levitt's vibrantly saturated portraits and tableaux—and her charmingly strong, off-the-cuff personality.
Levitt, who got her start shooting a weekly street-style column for the New York Post in 1999, has continuously worked in fashion editorial and celebrity portraiture for numerous publications, and has photographed personalities as varied as Rick Owens, Kristen Wiig, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Claire Danes, Bristol Palin, Mark Wahlberg, chef April Bloomfield, and artists Matthew Barney and Andres Serrano. "I think it's important to maintain the integrity of the celebrity, so the images are fairly well fitting. They are physically strong-minded people who have a great sense of self. They know who they are," Levitt explains. "Photographing strangers, just photographing random people, it's an incredible amount of skill so that I can enter the celebrity world and access them as if they were contemporaries or peers. I can extract from them something that is really honest and pure. I take what I think I know about them and elevate it."
In addition to her commercial work, Levitt published her first monograph, We Are Experienced, an exploration of American youth culture, in 2008. "They, I think, reflect what is going on in our society, they are these conduits. All of the things we've been doing, the kids have been doing. I'm telling stories about our contemporary culture through these kids as they're experiencing it," Levitt says. Captured in rural, suburban, and urban settings, the kids of We Are Experienced belong to a vast network of subculture tribes—goths and jocks, baton twirlers and psychobilly devotees. For her part, Levitt lushly documents the roots of burgeoning identity.
Levitt has also segued into recording many of her subjects on video, allowing them to engage the viewer in a way that still photographs might not. "With the videos and making short films, I can actually allow you [to] experience what I've experienced," Levitt emphasizes. "I think it shows the steps and the complications, and it shows much more about all of these subjects that I think are fascinating. Whether or not you do, or you don't, I am now allowing you to state your own opinion."
DANIELLE IS AVAILABLE TO VIEW ON WIGS NOW.