Levi Mandel Interview

Seattle born photographer, Levi Mandel, captures the most absurd, delicate and decrepit things all in one breadth.  The humor in surreal instances like zines falling into a grave or a hog on a couch is strangely juxtaposed against more somber and serious scenes of nature or fragile light cast upon someone's face. Read on and learn of his old "Atticus Jackson" pseudonym, his previous work with photographer Ryan McGinley and much more. - Keba

-Where did you find a hog on a couch? Was that just something that you randomly came upon or did you set it up with a specific idea in mind?
Last summer I worked for Ryan McGinley which was always an adventure, often finding myself traveling to the far and forgotten corners of New York City. On one of those occasions I was asked to head to Ponchron Studios which happens to be in Red Hook. After a train ride followed by a bus ride followed by a walk, I found the studio and appeared to be the only one surprised by the massive hog sleeping in the waiting room. I later found out his name is Emmitt and was the face of Vice's Fashion Issue, I don't remember the year.

-What is a "video zine"? I like that term.
I loosely call my Recital series "video zines" in reference to the traditional printed zine. Each video contains no specific narrative but rather contains a collection of information, all of which happen to have been shot on my iPhone.

-On your site, you have your work organized under headings such as "prisms" and "1:11", do these titles represent a premeditated connection between photos or are they an afterthought? Also, what would you say is a common thread through your work or what are your favorite things to capture?
The titles to my series' are labeled specifically but only after the body of work is completed and not before. I usually sit on the photographs for months before actually doing anything with them, curating the photographs down, then eventually assigning a title. Prisms is a reference to my obsession with light; beautiful yet temporary, enjoyed only in the present. When I was 6 or so my Mom told me that when the clock falls on 1:11 you could make a wish, which will come true. I'm still making wishes on 1:11.

I wouldn't say there exists one common thread within my work, maybe more of a feeling; a combination of nostalgia, the uncanny, the surreal…

-Do you still work with Ryan McGinely as a videographer? What is it like and has working with him impacted your approach to your own work at all?
I don't still work for Ryan. It was a priceless experience and I'm sure his style of creating work has indeed impacted the way I work.

-Who was Atticus Jackson and why did you stop using the pseudonym?
Is Atticus any different from Levi Mandel?
Atticus Jackson was an experiment in identity. I was curious how viewers would perceive the same work I've been making under a different name. I stopped making work under Atticus because I think the project ran its course. Things started getting complicated professionally, and I found it much easier to just use my real name. Atticus and Levi are the same.

-You were born in Seattle but you live in Brooklyn..how do the environments compare to one another and how have they affected your work? Would you ever move back to Seattle?
Seattle and Brooklyn are physically and psychologically polar opposites. Seattle is green, calm, has relatively mild weather…clean. Brooklyn is colorful in different ways, aggressive, has extreme weather and there is trash everywhere. That said I love Brooklyn. Even before I moved to Brooklyn (having never been) I knew I would fall in love with the city. Once I actually got here it was exactly how I imagined it. I think in my description of Brooklyn you can see the advantages of being a photographer out here - you don't need to look far for an interesting photo; they practically present themselves to you at every moment. You just have to be aware of what’s going on around you and be prepared to make photographs at any moment. I will always love Seattle and very well might move back after I get the rest of the world out of my system.

-You study at The Cooper Union. I know they are big on making students experiment with many different media before zoning in on one thing, when you started at Cooper were you as into photography as you are now or was photography something you were exposed to only after you started going there?
I entered Cooper as a photographer, which most likely is what helped me get in, as I'm not the best painter. Ironically, your first year at Cooper Union is called Foundation, where you have your entire year of classes already mapped out for you. This meant that I was thrown into drawing, sculpture, welding and color-theory classes, among others. This is an obviously wise choice by the school as it exposes students to mediums outside of their practice, which is good because I most likely would have been taking all photography classes if I had the choice.

-Do you always have your camera on you or do you only have it on specific occasions when you know that you will be taking pictures.
I always have my camera on me.

-What fascinates you?
Shape-shifting, black holes, natural light, youth, animals, the forest…

-What other forms of art are you into?
I'm less interested in specific mediums of work and more interested in something that will emotionally impact me in some way.

-What are you listening to these days?
Hype Williams, Wayne, Beach Boys, Black Dice, Joy Division, The Sugarcubes, The Pharcyde, Modest Mouse