Tamar Levine is shooting to extend the art of photography. From the looks of her pictures, she has put in serious time mastering the skills essential to elevating her craft. Detailed, painstaking process shows in the illumination, revelation, and wonder that imbue every picture she keeps.
Levine, clearly, is an artist whose inspirations challenge her to make difficult visions real. It’s like she’s daring herself to go beyond comfort zones, and inviting the rest of us to share in that daring simply by considering her compositions.
If Tamar Levine were any less inspired, she wouldn’t be a go-to creator for all the brands and publications (Nylon, Chaos, Tumblr, Warner Bros, Runway, ABC, Lexus, Nine Inch Nails, Reebok, Karla Colletto, Victoria’s Secret PINK, Flaunt Magazine, Urban Decay, etc. etc.) that have joined her in exploring her art’s outer limits—and taking the next steps beyond there.
The Skeeve: What is so special about photographing people?
Tamar Levine: I like exploring the nature and appearance of people, examining the gaze of models in a setting. I photograph my subjects with the intention of allowing viewers to appreciate the surfaces, while reifying the depths. Whether the character is real or someone I am making up, I try to evoke the subject’s experience within the context of her (or his) existence. I like making photos that are nice to look at, but I tend to also include elements that are just a little bit off, to create tension and to keep the viewer’s attention for just a little bit longer than would have been probable without these elements.
The Skeeve: What’s the key to combining the formality and creativity of your personal projects?
Tamar Levine: This totally depends on the project. I think, in short, the real key is my point of view. This point of view is sustained from finding initial inspiration, through coming up with a loose idea. It extends into all phases of my process. I like creating rules for myself…rules help me to define the style. Rules are given to me by my commercial clients; so giving them to myself for a personal project helps me hone in on my story. I don’t feel it’s worth telling if it isn’t conveying a unique point of view, which is created with composition, lighting, environment, and subject(s). Technically, I normally plan my shoots pretty thoroughly. I create mood boards, I work with a team of people to help my vision come to life, bringing their talents to make my work better than I could possibly make it on my own. If I am using models (as opposed to documenting a subject such as in my “Marilyn” project), I work with a wardrobe stylist, hair and makeup person, and one or more assistants. I find a location and/or work with a set designer to help create a unique environment. My point of view often starts with “less is more.” I light up from dark to put in just the right amount of light I need. I compose from nothing, to put in just the right amount of objects or people in the frame.
The Skeeve: Why photography?
Tamar Levine: Although I do directing as well, I began my career with photography. The moment I picked up a camera when I was 12, I was hooked. My dad had a Nikon F1—a film camera—and I instantly took to it. I have always been fascinated by still images; being able to create a narrative, a world, a moment in time, that the viewer can look at as long as they like. I love playing with the frame, seeing how much and at the same time, how little, I can put into it and still tell my story. I also love working with light… Manipulating it, then capturing it to work within that same story.
The Skeeve: Are you in L.A. by choice, or by default, and why?
Tamar Levine: I have spent most of my life in L.A. Since commercial art relies so much on making connections, I find most of my jobs are based in L.A. I love it here. I’ve also lived in New York, and although I really enjoy visiting and working there, L.A. feels like home to me. As long as I travel frequently, I am happy living here. So I would say, for now, a little of both.
The Skeeve: So many photographers are taking great pictures right now. How does being part of this inspired generation play into your work?
Tamar Levine: There is so much to look at all the time. Although there is a lot of crap out there, there is also an amazing amount of incredible and inspiring art, everywhere I turn. I feel fortunate to be working in a time when finding personal inspiration is so easy. The challenge is to take that inspiration, to process it, and to then reify it in a way that will distinguish it as something special.
All photos copyright Tamar Levine.