The photographer Danielle Levitt has an eye for disaffected youth. Her 2008 monograph “We Are Experienced” compiled more than 100 portraits of American teenagers taken over several years as Levitt hopscotched across the country shooting features and fashion editorials for Interview, Arena Homme Plus and The New York Times Magazine, among many others. Levitt began her career shooting a street style column for The Wall Street Journal, a natural window onto the downtown scene, and her work has evolved to include “werewolves” in Texas for Dazed & Confused and sissy bouncers for Arena Homme Plus. This fall, she was sent to Lowell, Mass., to shoot Mickey Ward and Dicky Eklund, the real-life characters behind David O. Russell’s Oscar-nominated film “The Fighter”; the magazine assignment turned into a new series of portraits and a collection of short films. “Pride of Lowell,” curated by Naheed Simjee, will opened on Wednesday at Los Angeles’s Known Gallery. T caught up with Levitt via e-mail to talk about the show.
What did you find in the people of Lowell that engaged your curiosity/affection?
It’s a town with incredible perseverance, a wonderful strength of spirit, focused desire to overcome adversity, but it also shows fragility of the human spirit, and how quickly one can lose themselves if they don’t remain focused.
There is plainly a deeper, richer narrative in these images and characters’ lives — something bigger about America, about drugs and employment and the culture of the former factory town. How conscious of that story were you when you were taking these photographs?
Typically when I am drawn to a subject, there are broader cultural implications that exist beyond my initial interest, but I am not driven consciously by that larger story, but instead by the story at hand. It is powerful when the localized story reaches beyond its immediate region.
You really do get to know the people you photograph. Is it a case of needing to love your subjects?
I have a great affinity and respect for most of my subjects, and this enables me to connect intimately with them.
How does this series connect with your studies of teenagers, werewolves and sissy bouncers?
They all share a sense of community. no matter how unusual your interest in activities may be, these people have found like-minded souls in their respective communities.
Where does your eye for the fringe come from?
While my interest in culture is not limited to the fringe, there is a certain attraction or appeal that I feel toward members of society who have been marginalized for one reason or another.
You seem to be adding a new dimension to your work with the video. How does that fit in to your still work? What are the advantages of the moving image?
The videos provide another dimension to the portraiture as there are aspects to a character/subject that are only understood in a moving image. The still photographs are a distillation of my entire experience and understanding of my subject.
So … did you know anything about boxing or this culture before you went to Lowell?
Not more than anyone else. It brings me great pleasure to learn while immersed in a scene.
I imagine the Hollywood version is very valuable to the people fictionalized therein — there is serious mythmaking that is central to our national character going on there. But there is something else, something unique, in these pieces. How do you think these add to “The Fighter”?
My photographs provide an opportunity to meet the real people behind the story. Who knew Dicky Eklund was such a great dancer?
Find out more at: nytimes.com