Photographer and filmmaker Danielle Levitt has been busy exploring youth’s far flung corners for years. By shifting from photographing subculture to bonafide filmmaking she’s able to bring her images to life. “I‘m finally able to let my subjects tell their own unique stories. It’s not easy in a photograph, but in film they can share their lives and hopefully that draws you in,” she explains. With a rap sheet including a high voltage performance from Rick Owens’ step team and a confession cam-style moment with transgender teens, Levitt’s acumen for capturing the often under-wraps intimacy in society’s fringe dwellers is irrefutable. Here, we pay homage to the auteur with three of her most powerful Dazed archive moments as she takes on this week's Dazed Visionary title with her intimate portrait of Atlantan rapper Raury.
For the uninitiated, Rick Owens’ assault on the SS14 shows delivered a highly charged performance of ‘grit face’ and rhythmic stomping, as American step team ‘Team Vicious’, clad in the designer’s monochromatic palette, descended on his Paris runway. The designer cast aside catwalk tradition to deliver a heart-in-throat performance by bringing the esoteric dance movement to fashion’s forefront. Team Vicious reprised their roles in Owens’ dark army for Dazed’s aptly titled The Outsiders spring/summer 2014 issue, styled by Emma Wyman and shot by Levitt. In a Dazed original film and photoshoot, Levitt captured the steppers’ exponential ritualistic dance. “It wasn’t hard to document these women – they’re incredibly fierce and bold. I simply served as a mirror that reflected their already existing power and determination. It was one of the more important experiences I’ve had,” she reveals.
Navigating the bitchy, heartbreaking waters of high school isn’t easy for even the most ordinary of students. However, that coming of age for the four transgender Latino teens, featured in Levitt’s shoot for Dazed’s June 2010 issue, is incomparable. “It takes a lot of guts to be transgendered. It’s dangerous,” revealed a 17-year old Angie in a poignant post-shoot interview captured on film. Levitt’s no-frills and deeply intimate portrait of the girls is a paean to the quartet’s unflinchingly honest stories. “I hope to approach my subjects with objectivity,” Levitt explains, “but telling Angie’s story was hard. I hadn’t met someone so young who had done so much to change their identity, and I hated that it was a struggle for her”. From contemplating suicide to leaving schools, peers and families behind, Levitt enables the girls to reveal their quest for a slice of normalcy.
In 2010, Levitt immortalised teenage gang The Crimson Wolf Pack in a three-part snapshot, featuring members Tabby, Wolfie and Jacey. Albeit living more familial than riotous, it’s their penchant for a real fur tail pinned to their jackets and a deep bond that bestows them their name. Providing a compelling peek into the angsty teens that Levitt seeks out, the films kick off with leader of the pack, 18-year old Wolfie Blackheart. “Wolfie is quite possibly the most unique character I’ve met,” admits Levitt. “As a youth she was different; more comfortable with animals and the full moon than her traditional family”. The pack’s worship of Wolfie as an alpha female is an obvious focus but by series end the message boils down to something more palpable. “Showing little vulnerability Wolfie provided a place for others to feel safe,” continues Levitt. A maternal figure nurturing her cubs, a band of outsiders, who turn to their adopted pack rather than their biological family, something that can resonate with anyone, part wolf or not.
Follow Ashleigh Kane on Twitter here @ashleighkane