Jon Luvelli is a “fine art documentarian” working in the street photography tradition, thus blending a variety of genres and styles into his work. A majority of his photographs have been made in Columbia, Missouri—a Midwestern college town that does not exactly style itself a hotbed of street photography but nevertheless an urban fabric that Luvelli has come to know and capture intimately in the past years. Much like a modern-day Mark Cohen, Luvelli shows us that every street holds deep interest and even beauty—if you know how to look.
LensCulture contributor Willow Pollock reached out to Luvelli to find out more about his distinctive approach to street photography. This is an edited transcript of their interview.
LC: When did you first become inspired to become a photographer?
JL: When I was five years old, I was looking out my bedroom window waiting for my father to get home. With my knees on the bed, leaning on the window seal, I was staring at a tree daydreaming. All of a sudden, my eyes shifted to my reflection in the window. I was instantly captivated by mixing the two perspectives together and understanding that looking at both at the same time was unattainable with the human eye. I called out for my mother to view what I had discovered. I wanted to capture the image and show both views to my friends. My passion for documenting the world as I see it started that very day.
LC: What purpose does photography serve for you?
JL: Photography is a refuge and release for me. I work to capture the element of emotion throughout each frame. By “emotion,” I don’t mean the obvious: happy, sad, angry; it’s deeper than that. Each frame drawns upon a complex connection and reflects how I feel inside. Photography gives me a way to take the hurricane of feelings, emotions and ideas inside me and funnel them into a singular force.
LC: Each of your photos tell an intriguing story, but when it comes down to the moment of capturing something, what are the key factors that make you want to stop and shoot?
JL: It has to be something that is interesting to me, something I want to paint. As a photographer, you must be hyper aware of what’s going on around you. Be prepared and in the zone, like a professional athlete. Take my piece “Uninhibited” for example [photo 8 above]: as I turned the corner into an alley, I saw someone running towards the wall. When I saw him take that leap, I knew exactly what he was going to do but I had to time it perfectly to make sure I would get the shot I wanted.
Thus, I like to work by myself. I’m a lone wolf when it comes to strapping on my camera and getting into my zone. I focus, see the world around me and know without hesitation what I’m going to shoot. That’s the zone, that’s my zone.
LC: In many pictures, you make the viewer feel like they’re standing in an exact moment with your subject. Do you personally feel most comfortable shooting close or far away from your subjects?
JL: My objective is to take people on a journey with me. I believe this is best accomplished with a 50mm lens. If I’m not in the position I need to be for a particular shot, then the observer won’t comprehend the true meaning of the scene. Whether I have to hang from a building upside down, slide into the street, or jump out of a moving car, it comes down to me wanting to create what I see.
LC: Do you like being photographed?
JL: Me?! I love it! I’m a ham for the camera. How could I expect to capture other people’s images if I’m not willing to have mine captured as well?
WP: When you feel lost or suffering from a creative block, how do you find inspiration?
JL: I never feel slow or lost, because I’m constantly working. This is what I do, this is my life. The world is full to the brim of life and excitement, you can never run out of something to shoot, ever. If you’re new or you’ve been doing this for a while and you haven’t found a particular style, don’t worry because your style will find you. Continue to go out and beat the pavement every single day.
Personally, creating art with my photography is all I do. Every day I have the same routine: I wake up and write for two hours. Then I leave the house and go shoot for 8-12 hours. Whether it’s 10 degrees or 110 degrees, I’m out shooting. Everyone and everything is beautiful to me and it’s my passion to capture the beauty I see and share it with the world to enjoy.
—Jon Luvelli, interviewed by Willow Pollock
Editor’s Note: Jon Luvelli is currently holding a solo exhibition at the Montminy Gallery in Columbia, Missouri. The show, containing 72 pieces , will run from July 8 - August 21, 2016.