Exposed and Unpolished: An interview with fashion designer and photographer Inbar Levi
Art — 07.11.20
A collection of monumental moments. Every car, every person, and every fraction of time in these images is chosen to signify an interaction that has been both unforgettable yet has slipped away. Inbar Levi’s debut photo book titled PHOTOS highlights exceptional beauty, a thought echoed in the golden hour, history worn into the fading paint of a Chevy Bel-Air, a smiling streetlight. Pink bubblegum, wheels of steel, blood-red roses, open skies.
Beyond her photography, Inbar Levi is a fashion designer and an artist in the broadest sense of the word. She grew up in a coastal town north of Tel Aviv, and spent almost a decade in London, before moving to Los Angeles to launch her label. Her experiences around the world defined her as an individual, and her profound vision, reflected in her work.
Owen Kobasz: Could you please tell us a bit about yourself and your work?
Inbar Levi: I am a fashion designer firstly, I’ve graduated with Masters from Central Saint Martins, with the training of the legendary late Professor Louise Wilson. With recent years, my work evolved into photography and other mediums such as painting. All of these different aspects were always there, they are constantly elevating each part of my work and pushing things further. You can also probably say that art was there first and then came fashion… it’s like the chicken or the egg…
How did you originally get into photography as a medium?
While I was working on my collections at Central Saint Martins, I’ve always started off my research with photography. I used it as a tool, finding things I liked and people that caught my eye and documenting that. It was very raw and a necessity for me, everything I made came from there and then looking at those images I saw more than just the object or the person there was always a story, and it unfolded more to it than what met the eye. I’ve always carried a film camera with me, those London days were where it started. Then I would also use photography to document the end result of a project or a collection, it was a big part of my presentations.
You have a background in fashion, how does that influence your photography? And vice-versa?
They are definitely affecting each other; my research and ideas come from my photography, my encounters and beauty in different ways that surround me on a daily basis. I’m attracted to power and honesty whether it’s an object, a human being or an atmosphere, I’m determined to find it.
How would you describe your style?
My work is pretty exposed and unpolished. I don’t Photoshop or work on my images, real is always better, if you take away from the truth in a situation, you are left with a ghost of an image, it’s a systematic prison if you go that route. You have to let the image be what it really is and not try to make it something it’s not. As pure as possible.
You currently live in Los Angeles, but grew up in Tel Aviv, and studied in London. How have these vastly different environments influenced you both as an individual and as an artist?
My roots are embossed in me whether I think of it all the time or not, it’s a huge part of who I am and I’m proud of having those unique qualities in me that some come from my very mixed racial background and my childhood and some are particular to me. That and my experiences growing up on the coastline north of Tel Aviv is my DNA.
London shaped me, it was where everything really exploded work-wise. I was suddenly sort of an adult and I discovered what it meant to be on your own and start a new life somewhere so different, all of that while starting to produce work and going to Central Saint Martins. It’s where I met all my true friends, found all the movies and all the painters and all the things that interest me ‘til this day. I have to say that my taste hadn’t changed much, I still like the same things. The idea of beauty is immortal and what was meaningful to me then still is today just in a different way. Los Angeles is where I started my brand and started producing collections, I have the freedom to explore here and to expand. It is home now.
Your first book [PHOTOS] came out about a year ago, what was the process of creating it like?
It was my first photo book which meant I had a lot to say and only 60 pages or so to say it in. I got a lot in, a lot of moments, and they are all sort of pieces of a puzzle put together but separated, for the viewer to make a connection of.
I love the tranquil landscape on the cover and juxtapositions found in the inner spreads. It’s like your photos are communicating with each other. Which photos are the most memorable and why?
Yes, they’re contradicting and completing each other at the same time.
My dear friend Anastasia blowing bubble gum during our walk in Brooklyn a few years back, a man with a repeating blue motif on a bridge in Southern California, and an older lady with a silk scarf on her face strutting on the street in Tel Aviv, years before we all had to wear a face cover.
What other photo books have you been looking at recently?
I’m in love with Mark Steinmetz’s Carnival book and Dana Lixenberg’s Imperial Courts.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a second photo book. I have just finished framing a photo show. Working on a new collection, a zine collaboration, and shooting fashion stories when I get the time to do so. I’ve just photographed an editorial that should be out soon.
You have a new photo show on the way, can you tell us a bit about that series?
It will be my first photo show, it’s a collection of portraits mostly that I’ve photographed in the past 3 years. It is dominated by a portrayal of vigorous women. Those images to me are windows, exporting you, the viewer into an instant of a scene.
Inbar Levi’s photo book titled Photos can be purchased from Photo-eye Books in Santa Fe, New Mexico.