Here at Midwest, we’re always looking to highlight the great photographers in the area and what sets them apart! I had the honor of doing an interview with Maria Levitov, local photographer who shoots everything from wedding photography to portraiture and is always ready for a new challenge. One of her projects, the Stranger Project, caught our attention and we had to find out more! If you have a chance, check out her website!
What inspires you?
I feel inspired by music, the great outdoors, people, life… it’s hard to answer this question without sounding cliché. I feel inspired by everything around me.
What got you into photography?
I started taking photos as a kid with disposable cameras because I wanted to “freeze” time. I had a hard time accepting that time passed so quickly, so I felt like taking photos would somehow make things last longer. It’s funny to say that I used something disposable in the hopes of making it more permanent. As I got older, my love for freezing time also became an art form. I wanted to make things last but also make them look beautiful too.
What’s your favorite place to shoot in Columbus?
I really don’t have a favorite place to shoot in Columbus. I’d say my favorite place to shoot is somewhere I’ve never shot before.
If you’re not shooting, what do you like to do?
My life is submerged with the arts. I spend most of my time writing music, playing shows, taking photos, or editing photos. Sprinkle in touring, traveling, and time with the people I love.
What’s your favorite image you’ve taken?
This is a really hard question to answer. One photo comes to mind, but I have lost track of where it is and couldn’t possibly tell the story as well as it could. So I think I’d have to say that my favorite photo is generally the one I haven’t taken yet.
I don’t have a specific style or niche that I fit into. I love photography. I will photograph anything or anyone. I also love a challenge, so anything new is usually a little scary, exciting, and appealing to me. Starting The Stranger Project has really made me fall in love with portraits though. Connecting with people in that way has been an indescribable experience.
What is the stranger project and how were you inspired?
On March 11th, I decided to dedicate a full year to a personal & photographic project called The Stranger Project. It’s a practice in being vulnerable & open with complete strangers. It’s about seeing people and letting them see me, making strangers not strangers anymore. Every day for a year, I walk up to a stranger and ask if I can take their picture. In exchange for their vulnerability and as a demonstration of my gratitude for their participation, I offer my CD as a gift.
I’m always nervous in a street photography situation. Do you find it intimidating or scary approaching strangers?
I wouldn’t say that I’m scared when I approach strangers, but there is a moment of awkwardness or nervousness. It feels like being the new kid at school or something. I just never know how people are going to respond, and not knowing can be a little intimidating. Having your photograph taken can be a very vulnerable thing. That’s a big reason why I give all of my strangers my CD. I want them to know that I’m feeling vulnerable too. In that way, we both leave with a “piece” of each other.
Do people usually respond pretty well to you taking their picture for the Stranger Project?
I would say out of 100 strangers probably 15 people have said no. Rarely is anyone ever offended or upset about it though. Usually they are having a bad day, are in a rush, or just don’t like photos in general. I’ve found that most people who say no tend to be much older; I think there’s just a generational gap to some degree. They seem to be more private. As for the people who say yes, sometimes they start off a little shy, but almost all of them get comfortable with the camera. There is something truly special to me about someone loving a photo of themselves that wasn’t planned. Anyone can feel extra beautiful in their favorite outfit or with their hair done, but to feel beautiful in a random, spontaneous moment on the street, that’s genuine to me.
What do you think is the most important thing when talking to a prospective client?
In my opinion, the most important thing when talking to a client is authenticity. I want to make my clients feel safe and comfortable. Having your photograph taken can be a very vulnerable thing for many people. The photographer and the client are forming trust.
What’s your go-to equipment for a typical shoot?
I’d say that nine times out of ten you will find me with a fast prime and my Nikon D750. I am a huge fan of the Sigma Art series lenses and I swear by them. I have two or three of them in my bag at any given time; although this year I have really become fond of the traditional 50mm focal length, especially when it comes to photographing people.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give someone who’s just starting out in photography?
The advice I would give to a new photographer is to try not to concentrate on the gear too much in the beginning. Photography is not a cheap hobby or career, and a lot of people get overwhelmed by the prices and all of the accessories. Get something that you can afford and shoot with it. Shoot every day if you can. Experience really is the best way to learn. Take your camera everywhere and have fun!
Here’s some more of Maria’s work!