Danielle Levitt began her career as a photographer documenting street fashion for the New York Post, producing a photo column for the paper. Levitt has since shot for The New York Times Magazine, GQ, Dazed and Confused, Harper’s Bazaar and Rolling Stone, and has worked on ad campaigns for Microsoft, Nike, Penguin, and Old Spice.
Levitt published her first monograph in 2008, We Are Experienced, focusing on teenagers and the experience of growing up in America. Photographing football stars, anorexics, wiccans, punks, prom dates, snowboarders, and baton twirlers, Levitt’s book serves as an archive of portraits that record the formative years of American youth.
Levitt, born in Los Angeles and based in New York, photographed American teenagers for the June 20, 2011 issue of TIME. She spoke with LightBox about her fascination with kids and her new project, Street Casted.
When did you start photographing kids?
I started when I was ten. After being given my first camera for my birthday, I photographed me and my friends. I was shooting with a drug store camera, but it sparked an interest that never waned.
I was very serious about becoming a photographer, and at 28, I found myself freelancing and traveling quite a bit. In each new city, I would observe the local kids—my interest grew, so eventually I asked to photograph them.
What sparked your interest in youth culture?
It was spring break and I was in an airport in Chicago. I noticed that quite a few kids en route to their holiday vacations were holding pillows from their homes. I don’t know when this trend began but did the same thing ten years prior on my own spring break vacation—I wanted to know more. Ten years had passed since my 18th birthday and I was curious about what else I could ascertain, the similarities as well as the changes.
Years later, it comforts me to know that teens are infinitely fascinating, constantly evolving, finding extraordinary ways to identify, are raw and very expressive.
What is your new project? How has it evolved from your past work?
My new project, Street Casted, started after publication of my first monograph, We Are Experienced (PowerHouse, 2008). We Are Experienced is a stylized archive of contemporary youth culture. This is reflected by both the characters chosen and the spaces they inhabit. With Street Casted, I replaced the environment with a studio and learned to illicit the same honest and intimate interactions without personal signifiers. I intend to shoot this project for years to come, allowing for a more comprehensive exploration to emerge.