Toy Soldiers: The Art of David Levinthal

New York based photographer David Levinthal, is renowned for blurring the distinction between reality and fiction with his use of toys as a replacement for people...
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New York based photographer David Levinthal, is renowned for blurring the distinction between reality and fiction with his use of toys as a replacement for people...

David Levinthal is a photographer, who works and lives in New York. He has a way with photo’s that makes most do a double take. He creates moody, thought provoking and at times, controversial scenes that reference historical events or moments in popular American culture. From World War II to ice hockey to the Wild West – each set of images is full of painstaking detail. I first came across his work at College, where I’d had the idea of photographing figures or toys to create a realistic setting. A concept that I thought highly inventive and original until seeing David’s work quickly brought me back down to earth.

His first complete set of images were produced during the final phase of the Vietnam war though focus on the Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941. The images were published under the title ‘Hitler Moves East: A Graphic Chronicle’ in 1977 – the book gained cult status among young artists of the time, which resulted in Levinthal being credited with changing the shape of documentary photography that had become prominent throughout the 60’s. Whilst gazing at the soft focus images of toy soldiers, as they invade the Soviet Union upon snow made from flour and hand cut grass, planted by the artist himself - you could be forgiven for mistaking them for the real thing. They’re black and white, grainy appearance bare a canny resemblance to war photos of the time - and it is within this ability to create playful interpretations of past events that makes his work so fascinating.

Throughout his entire works Levinthal continues to use toys as a way to reflect reality.  However it’s not all dark and helpless images of war – The Hockey and Baseball sets focus on two of America’s favourite pastimes. These images depict Ice Hockey and Baseball players in a series of in game situations. The use of soft focus is what really makes his subjects come to life in both of these collections.  His ‘Modern Romance’ set features a selection of film noir influenced photos of lonely, lamp lit couples. These images were filmed and then shot from a TV screen, which in return creates what looks like disturbingly real CCTV footage.

It’s all very creative - from the handmade figures and intricately designed dioramas, to the subtle lighting and even the photographic techniques that are applied – each part is perfectly executed, resulting in a back catalogue of photographs like no other.

David’s latest exhibition which features his highly controversial Blackface Polaroid’s from 1995, opened in New York City on May 19th and runs until July 2nd.

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