David Leventi.

Things in the pictures…

1. Kangaroo Pelt with bullet hole: It’s incredibly soft and warm. I hope PETA doesn’t get angry. It was a gift from a college friend studying to be a doctor in Australia.
2. Big Boy Doll: Advertisement for the Big Boy Restaurants | Home of the Original Double Decker. It’s a souvenir from a road trip through Pennsylvania to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1935 masterpiece Fallingwater. We stopped at a Big Boy for lunch.
3. Books: Inspiration!
4. Computer: Command Central.

David Leventi is a fine-art photographer based in New York. He received his BFA in Photography from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Leventi was selected by PDN as one of 2007’s Top 30 Emerging Photographers. In 2008, his work was included in the Communication Arts Photography Annual and in American Photography 24, he received two Graphis Gold awards and was listed among the Critical Mass Top 50 Finalists by Photolucida.
Leventi’s current project, titled “Bjoerling’s Larynx,” records the interiors of world-famous opera houses. Photographed with a large-format view camera, this body of work is architecturally meticulous.
Leventi is represented by Bonni Benrubi Gallery in New York, Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans and Bau-Xi Photo Gallery in Toronto.

FROM YOUR DESKS: The opera house. Did you visit as a child?

DAVID LEVENTI: I never really visited the opera as a child. If I remember correctly, my first opera experience was The Magic Flute by Mozart on a class trip in elementary school. The Papageno/Papagena duet was quite entertaining! However, what was more memorable as a child growing up was listening to my grandfather, Anton Gutman, walk around the living room singing. The opera houses I have been photographing are the spaces in which my grandfather never got the chance to perform. Gutman was a cantor trained right after World War II by Helge Rosvaenge, a famous Danish operatic tenor who sang regularly with the State Operas in Berlin and Vienna. While Gutman was interned in a prisoner-of-war camp in the Soviet Union, he performed for prisoners and officers.

I was the center of attention and taking the photograph became a performance in itself. It must be the same for the performer.

FYD: When the opera house is empty; it is serene, quiet, peaceful. Does the colour of the ceiling add to this?

DL: As the son of two architects, I experience an almost religious feeling walking into a grand space such as an opera house. The first place you often look is up, and the painted ceiling/chandelier with all its grandeur grabs your attention similar to the way the nave of a church does. Perhaps with a little music (or silence) the space is all about getting closer to God.

FYD: Some of the prisons you photographed seem to pick up elements of the opera house with its curves, ceiling and lighting. Do you find architectural similarities?

DL: Stateville Correctional Center, a penitentiary near Joliet, Illinois, is one of the few remaining working round prisons. It is a perfect example of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon – “the design allows prison administration to observe all prisoners without the prisoners’ knowledge.” It also happens to be a reverse opera house. It has basically the same architectural structure as an opera house, but the difference is in who is observing whom. In an opera house, the audience of many is observing a few. In a jail, it’s the reverse, giving me the opportunity as a photographer to better understand what it must feel like to be a tenor performing for a full house, albeit with a captive audience.

FYD: What was like shooting in prisons?

DL: I have always had stage fright. Photographing from the center of a round prison is pure anxiety. The in-mates are all yelling, jeering, talking, in cacophony. I was the center of attention and taking the photograph became a performance in itself. At first, I was really intimidated, but then I blanked everything out and focused on photographing. It must be the same for the performer.

It’s about searching for that grungy New York that doesn’t really exist anymore. It kind of died with Florent.

FYD: Being a sentimental New Yorker, I love your New York eatery shots. How did the project come about?

DL:have always been shy, which is why I shoot buildings. Bright harsh neon signage is always beckoning. The project originally started when I began shooting laundry lists of restaurants and stores for Time Out New York. It was my first real editorial gig. To be honest, I have not thought much about this project recently. It’s something that I would like to start working on again at some point. It’s about searching for that grungy New York that doesn’t really exist anymore. It kind of died with Florent.

FYD: You just returned from Romania; what were you doing there?

DL: Romania Revisited is a project I started in 1996 photographing my family roots. I still have a lot to figure out and a ton of writing to do. This past December I spent a little over a week photographing in Bucharest and Transylvania. I’m very interested in the tension that exists between the bleak communist-era city blocks and the beautiful lush countryside. For example, the picture (see below) is of Hunedoara Castle in Transylvania, Romania. What I find interesting is the juxtaposition of different eras: a medieval castle, an abandoned communist-era factory and a McMansion share the same space. The beauty of the photograph captivates you, but you are soon shocked by the different political regimes. One day, the McMansion will be abandoned, just like the factory.

Check out David’s solo show opening at Bau-Xi Photo in Toronto from February 5-19th.

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