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Interview: Illustrator Lucas Levitan

19 August 2014 | Charlie Kenber

“It’s one of few projects that I could say: that’s me.”

Brazilian illustrator and artist Lucas Levitan’s ‘Photo Invasions’ have been doing the rounds on Instagram lately: by adding his own illustration to photographers’ images, he creates an often-humorous take on the original work. This September these remarkable images will be taking to the streets of Shoreditch, escaping the digital world for the first time. We spoke to Lucas about his work…

London Calling: Where did the idea come from to start illustrating other people’s Instagram photos?

Lucas Levitan: I work in advertising and I’m an illustrator as well but I never took illustration so seriously. I started this project by illustrating over my own pictures as a way to change the narrative. I shared it on Instagram and people started commenting asking for me to invade their own photography, and I thought ‘oh, that’s a project that I would love to keep doing!’

I call it Photo Invasion as a way to interact with other people’s images. It’s taken me somewhere I really like, creating this unexpected partnership with photographers. By interfering with their images it makes them think about what they’ve created not as a finished project, but something that sparks off other peoples’ understanding. Create a new narrative and a new story line.

LC: How have the photographers responded? Did anyone complain about you using their photographs?

LL: I think they’ve been surprised by the way I’ve taken their images and created something else. Some people were telling me that if you’re going to those big photographers on Instagram, people who have a big following, they’ll get a bit mad at you taking over their image and creating something else, but it was the opposite, and that’s encouraged me to keep going.

People who use Instagram understand that their image is public, and are willing to see what the response is from their creation. They understand that what they put into the public domain other people can take over and turn into something else.

LC: I suppose it’s a bit of a compliment to the photographers too…

LL: True, true. Some of them also started sharing the response – for me it was an honour to be on their feed, just because they like it.

I try to respect a lot too. When I got in touch with those guys about using the image for the exhibition the response was really amazing. They were really glad! What I tried to do was not changing for the sake of changing or spotting problems with the image, but actually trying just to build over an image I quite like, or if there’s a gap where I could put something else. So as a starting point for another story. And respecting their work, I think that’s my first objective. Understanding that these guys were creating something that I respect, and I’m not just taking over but I’m also building up.

LC: How does taking the images offline change how you interact with them?

LL: Yeah it changes slightly. I’ve been thinking a lot about taking it to the physical world. Once it’s online I’m respecting the place it was made and the place it was shared, but now repurposing it to the real world it changes. I’m turning this project into something else – it’s not just about sharing on the social media environment.

But I think in some way what I was trying to do was to take it from the public environment of Instagram and social media to another public environment, which is on the streets of Shoreditch. It’s not a gallery. I’m not trying to elevate it, or turn it into art, but just to amplify the audience by taking it from a digital environment to the real world.

LC: How exactly will you be displaying the work?

LL: It’s going to be a wall in Shoreditch. We tried to get it on a big wall with lots of circulation. We’re going to print in 20 x 20 and just cover a good part of the wall with those images.

LC: What do you hope the response might be?

LL: It becomes a bit like street art, or like public art. I think I’ll be happy if people interact with this by taking photographs – or if people steal it! Because I’ve stolen from someone else. It would be a compliment that they want to have these at home. The idea of sharing in a public space is intrinsic in the main idea of the project.

LC: The illustrations are very playful and humorous – is this the case with all of your work?

LL: They way that I express in this project is the way that I talk, the way that I try to be. The growth of this project was really organic, so I think I respected the way that I am – that I don’t take the images so seriously. Taking the image and creating a little joke, trying to find the sense of humour that I have in the image.

It’s one of few projects that I could say: that’s me. Certainly more than others. When I get commissioned, sometimes I tend to think too much.

I’m really glad about the response, because actually people like the way that I think.

‘Photo Invasion’ will be on show in Shoreditch in collaboration with Art No Cube from 4th September. Further information available here.

Check out Lucas’ work on his Instagram account.

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