A Defense of Beauty; A Conversation with Guy Nahum Levyby Anna Kopito | 26.10.14
Guy and I were trying to set our meeting. We had the time, Saturday 6pm, but at 17:30 we were still struggling with the place. Guy dropped the name of a Café on King George St. which I’ve never been to but heard of. Now, for someone who had recently returned from a visit to an ashram in India, a Café on King George can be an intimidating thing. I tried to seduce Guy to come to my place instead; “there’s crumble and tea and less noise” I wrote. “The Café is better” came his final answer. When I arrived there, I had to call him to ask where the entrance was. He was sitting with two young girls, whom I figured were his friends from school. I felt a bit anxious, and had to consciously let my thoughts subside to make room for the subject of this meeting – Guy.
He grew up in Jaffa, or between Jaffa and Tel Aviv, and “between my father and my mother” who separated when he was two years old. When I ask him what kind of environment he had growing up, he replies “a creative environment. My father is a photographer and my mother is a costume designer and scenographer, so I always knew that I would be doing something that is about aesthetics and seeing”. The word “seeing” catches my attention and I quote Guy to himself, “Seeing?”
“Yes, like in ‘to see’. By the way, I had a dream a few days ago in which I was going blind, and I don’t have anything. I don’t have a body, I don’t have anything except my blindness. I realized my profession and all the things I do are connected to what I see, and how I can put together two things I see to create something beautiful. Unfortunately I’m a very superficial person. All my friends are very beautiful”
I told him it was something I had noticed myself when I was looking at his work. All your models are very beautiful, and the pictures themselves are beautiful, I don’t have other words for it. I wanted to ask you if you see a parallel relation between taking pictures and creating beauty?
I noticed that for me, photography in itself is not the crucial thing. What I like to do, the things I photograph, it is a way of collecting and surrounding myself with beautiful things. I manage to find that in things as well as in people; the places I go to, the situations I put myself in, are usually beautiful ones. Amit (one of the girls sitting with us) and I sat in a Café once and I ordered a brownie, and suddenly she looks at me and says “Guy, what are you doing? Look –”, I said “at what?”, and she said “at the brownie! You keep straightening it, like you have to maintain the golden section of the brownie”.
Guy adds something about cleanliness, and about his work being clean. “It might have to do with growing up in an environment that was dirty. My room is also extremely messy”
So you do let yourself experience mess and dirtiness.
“Yes, I experience it but I don’t deal with it because it’s not important, or I’m tired of tidying it”
When you think about it now, why is it important for you, beauty itself and being surrounded by beauty?
“I think it’s one of the things from which I derive the most pleasure. Also I guess since my parents are doing this for a living, they do things through their eyes and through creating aesthetics, so it’s a very big part of my life, and I like it a lot. It’s fun. I know there are people who would think it’s very superficial to deal with beauty. But I find it so interesting, as beauty always had a major influence on culture. Beautiful people were gods. It has a lot of weight in this life. There is something exalted about beauty.”
“Of course. Also in nature, if you look at peacocks for example. The male has to impress the females with his looks. Often in nature beauty also means strength.”
This is a very specific notion of beauty you are evoking, it has to do with magnificence.
At this last word Guy lightens up, “Yes, very much.”
What is beautiful in your opinion?
“Body, face, flowers, graphic figures, for example the thing with the circles started by accident.” He is referring to one of his latest projects in which he had put round stickers on his models. “It became a kind of trademark, people say ‘Guy, he’s the one who puts stickers on people’. I noticed it started from my desire to touch. If I take a naked woman and put stickers on her in various places, I basically touch her… because I place the sticker, and it’s my presence over that person’s body”
Is it about ownership then?
“I don’t know if it’s ownership, it’s much more passion. It’s more like “I want it, I’m attracted to it, I want to touch it”. I am extremely attracted to beautiful things. I’ve been in relationships where I would even give up on personality if the beauty was exceptional. It’s pretty dumb”
What things influence your work?
I think what influences me are things I perceive as beautiful at a certain moment. Beautiful can also mean smart, like a person who speaks beautifully, or a girl who has beautiful voice.
Tell me how do you approach a new project, how does it happen?
“Actually these things happen by chance. I started saying, about what I did with the circles, that it started very accidentally. I did a line of T-shirts with my mother a year ago and instead of prices we put stickers. So I had those stickers left and I found them, and I had a shooting day and the model stayed longer; I wanted to do something and I didn’t know what, and then I saw the stickers and I started putting them on her and I thought it was beautiful and clean. There is something perfect about a circle, it’s very defined and also hard to define. I like to play with colors very much, and it enabled me to do that. In another project I put colorful powders on people in different places. I realized my aesthetics is graphic and about color. I like that, and I like it when I manage to see something in my mind in terms of color, and then achieve that result.”
Do you usually have a clear image of what you want to achieve?
“Yes, that’s the problem as well. Sometimes I do, but sometimes I don’t think before I do something, it’s very intuitive, and that is why I often feel that what I do isn’t deep enough. Dealing with beauty also isn’t very deep, but I think it is. You don’t have to give words to it. People react to beauty, so maybe it does not require an explanation.”
Is there a difference between your independent studio work and working with a client?
“I think the difference is that once you work for someone, make images for someone else, you are less important. You don’t create something freely of yourself, you serve an interest. I really like having clients, and usually since I have a specific aesthetics, the client chooses me for that, but I still have to accommodate my aesthetics to suit him, his situation and product.”
What do you enjoy the most about your work?
“I really enjoy the result. I like having an idea and being able to express it well. If this happens I am very happy. And I also enjoy my interaction with the person. I noticed I almost only take pictures of people. Because I think with nice objects, you can find them and they’re beautiful, but not as interesting. A person can be a very interesting object, because he is more than an object.”
You used to take pictures at parties. Why did you stop doing that?
“I stopped because I had the ability to do other things which interested me more. But it was a lot of fun, you get to know a lot of people, and also people don’t usually have their photo taken with a professional camera, and when you go out and you look good, you want a picture. So it was fun for me to be able to give this to people. And then drinking, dancing, the music.”
What kind of clients come to you?
“Since I have a very particular aesthetics, it appeals to clients I appreciate and like. In fashion for example I got to work with people like Dorin Frankfurt and Lara Rosnovsky, clients with good taste. It’s a lot of fun to have such clients, and I’m grateful for them for choosing me, since there are so many people who do this. I also had tremendous pleasure working with Talia Ben Tal on her upcoming online shop TLV Moda. She trusted me with all the photography and it was incredible. Another recent project I’m thinking of was for an amazing fashion designer, Misha Gat. She took me out of the studio for the first time almost”
What are you working on these days?
“Well actually I’m working on a solo exhibition that will include my work on the subject of these circles. It’s going to be at Kuli Alma, they are building this gorgeous gallery there. Moshe the owner at Kuli Alma offered me to put on an exhibition, I wasn’t planning on doing that. It also makes me think, I don’t know, maybe it’s not deep enough, it’s precisely the debate about the deepness of beauty. In the process I have been going through I really feel there is something very deep about beauty.”
I tell Guy that I notice how very preoccupied he is with questions of being good enough or not, or being superficial. It makes me a bit sad, but then I remember he is only twenty, and I remember myself at twenty, and I admire what he has been able to achieve at such a young age. I believe that with time he will become less apologetic and more confident about his pursuit of beauty. From listening to him speak, I find that he really does have an unusual sensitivity to the nuances of beauty, and I believe him when he says it’s something very deep.
He also tells me about his work with artist Pilpeled, and mentions in particular a very emotional moment during his work on Pilpeled’s forthcoming collection of sunglasses. “I was in the studio and almost all the models were people I know and love, and at some point the studio was full with about fifty people. Two girls who were doing makeup and two doing hair, producers, managers, Pilpeled himself, and I was thinking to myself “wow, I’m surrounded with so much beauty, I love it so much”. It was moving, and magnificent, as you say. So with this project as well, being given so much creative space from a person I appreciate so much, and whose work I love, it’s an incredible feeling.”
What kind of life or career do you imagine for yourself?
“I always say I want to create my artistic vision in Berlin, work in New York, and die in Paris.” The girls and I giggle, as Guy continues with complete seriousness. “It defines maybe the process I want to undergo with my career. I want to experiment in Berlin, and live in a kind of denial of life, and out of this confusion find myself as an artist. And then go to New York and work with the people I appreciate the most in my field, or try to work with them. I hope it works out. I love New York, it’s a lot like Tel Aviv but it’s bigger. And to die in Paris because I find it a romantic city in which beauty simply is, it just exists and I won’t have to try and find it.”