About the Photographer
American, b. 1949
In 1972, David Levinthal photographed a package worth of toy Nazi soldiers posed on the floor of his parents' home. Soon thereafter he was collaborating with fellow classmate and future Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau, as the two staged and documented their recreation of the Germans' 1941 invasion of Russia. This experiment not only turned into a series of exhibitions and the 1977 book Hitler Moves East, but also set the stage for a career creating photographs that use toy figures to explore iconic imagery.
Levinthal also made a small series with cowboy figures in 1972, though it was all but forgotten when he purchased a new set of Britains cowboy figures in 1985. The Wild West series, begun in 1986, does not seek to depict the historic American West but rather takes root in Levinthal's memories of playing cowboys and Indians as a child, staging re-enactments with old west toys, watching TV shows like Gunsmoke, and attending countless B-movie matinees. Using toy figures meticulously re-painted by Levinthal himself, the series reconstructs an iconic West through what he remembers of those childhood representations (which were themselves interpretations of the past). Each of Levinthal's series has a distinctive palette, and The Wild West scenes are done in a warm amber tint. The very shallow depth of field used in this series confuses the blur of limited focus with the blur of motion as horses rear up on their back legs or carry their riders over brush and rocks. The effect also suggests the haze of memory, though the saturation of color maintains an emotional intensity. Shot as 3-by-3 inch SX-70 Polaroids, the final prints are rendered on a much grander scale with acrylic paint on canvas.
David Levinthal was born in San Francisco on March 10, 1949. He holds an AB in studio art from Stanford University (1970), an MFA in photography from Yale University, and an SM in Management Science from MIT (1981). After business school, he worked as a management consultant in Silicon Valley, where he made enough money co-founding a high-tech marketing firm that, selling his share of the business in 1983, he could afford to photograph full-time. His major projects include Hitler Moves East (1975-1977), Modern Romance (1984-86), The Wild West (1987-89), American Beauties (1989-90), Desire (1990-91), Mein Kampf (1993-94), Blackface (1996), Barbie Millicent Roberts (1998-99), XXX (1999), Netsuke (2002-), and Baseball (2003-). He is the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1995), National Endowment for the Arts Visual Artists Fellowship (1990-91), Polaroid Corporation Artist Support Grants (1987-89), and Prix du Livre de Photographie, Le Prix du Livre-Images, les Rencontres, Arles, France (1997). He has had more than 90 solo exhibitions, and his photographs are included in the collections of numerous institutions. Levinthal lives and works in New York.