Photographer Doug Levy finds himself to be the most successful, creatively, when he walks the fine line of having too much work to complete, braced with the overwhelming fear that nothing is going to get done. In this dreamt up space, that is when his productivity and focus kick into gear. While he has his professional long term projects which consist of most of his deadlines, he always likes to have two personal projects in progress or scheduled on his calendar.
This mentality of constantly balancing personal work with professional work dates back to when he was in college interning at a newspaper, before he even own a camera. The editor at the newspaper told him that when you’re a reporter and fresh on the scene, you always have your long term feature— long term project— in the background, which you may spend weeks to months on, but then you have your day-to-day reports that help pay the bills. This theory moved with him to his photography career and into his personal work in this medium.
One personal project of Doug’s is called Roller Derby, which originally came to fruition when him and his wife were eating at a local breakfast spot in New England where they spotted a flyer looking for women to join a local roller derby team. Doug realized they practiced 10 minutes from his home, and his wife encouraged him to call up the team to ask for access to photograph them.
By getting in contact he discovered that they have 30 women who compete on a couple different roller derby teams, traveling all across New England. When he stopped by the rink for the first time, he discovered it to be incredibly cool, and the women to be extremely welcoming. The location had a 1970’s neon color sort of vibe, equipped with all the flashing lights & black lights a nostalgia lover could ask for. The background he used for the photographs was nestled into a corner of the rink, where a wall was painted with super vibrant yellow, purple, and green stripes.
The subjects ranged from 25-40 year old women, all filled with excitement to have their portraits taken. Many raved how amazing the photographs were going to look, and how they couldn’t wait to show their kids them, so their children could see just how tough and cool their moms are. The way the women are photographed in their roller derby gear is far different than how their children— many under 10 years of age— would ever see them.
The first time he ever went to the rink he made 25 portraits, and came back a second time and made more of all the people who had join in the two years since he had shot the original project. Every woman had an individual portrait taken, to which they shared on their social media platforms (which they ran under their stage names, like wrestlers use). Doug’s imagery ended up being a successful way to recruit new members through not only social media but also their website and flyers, like the one he saw originally.
Another personal project of Doug’s which has led to unexpected success is his New England Craftsman series. This project began while shooting for a different personal series that never panned out, which was with Mass Farmers Market, where his friend was Director of Marketing. The idea was to shoot as many of the farmers who worked at the farmers market, on location at their farms. From working on this small project, he was invited to a farm to table cocktail event, where he met the two brothers who started Bully Boy Whiskey, based in New England. Doug asked if he could come hang out with them at the distillery and make portraits, thinking it would be a visually interesting one off shoot he could get a couple of portraits out of. But after the session, he figured there could be a lot more to this idea.
He then set out to photograph many people, all over New England, building, making, and creating a wide variety of things, all under the umbrella of smaller businesses, like Bully Boy— the original subject— was. As of current day he has done about 32 of them, dating back to the Spring of 2014 when the project began. These subjects range from a trumpet and trombone companies, a man who makes baseball bats on Cape Cod, a man and his niece who make apple cider in Vermont, a silversmith, a gunsmith, and a man who repairs airplanes to name a few.
Doug finds his subjects in a wide variety of ways. He found out about the apple cider makers through his wife, who was in Vermont for a girls weekend last fall, and stopped to buy some cider from the pair. Doug went up five days later to photograph the family duo, and it ended up being his favorite shoot of 2016. Another way he has tracked down these craftsman is through the power of the Internet. Wanting to work with a gunsmith for quite some time, he put out a post on Facebook asking if anyone knew of someone, and within 30 minutes he had an answer and an introduction e-mail.
Many of these people don’t even have an Internet presence, so the way to find them is the old fashioned way, through referrals. And on top of that, most would never think to hire a photographer because of their little budget. Aside from the few breweries he has shot at, a lot of the craftsmen and women are a single entity, doing their thing. In the end, they get 8-12 free photographs and some company to hang out with for about an hour. About a year ago he started shooting his portrait work— including work for this project— using a tripod and a cable release. It lets him focus and compose much easier, also allowing him to move from behind the camera to have a conversation with his subject. This creates a comfortable environment, so Doug can focus less on holding the camera in the right spot, and more on the person themselves and what they’re doing.
Doug loves getting to connect and talk about business and marketing with these small business owners, as he’s fascinated in how they grow their businesses and how they make what they do. His subjects leave him in awe with what they’re able to do from scratch. People are just as interesting as what they make, and what the photographs of them look like, so he doesn’t see the project ending anytime soon. Not to mention, he has had clients hire him time and time again to make work that looks exactly like his Craftsman series. It has easily let to tens of thousands of dollars in client work for him. Most of the time when people approach him to make work like this series, they are entirely hands off, since he has done it 30 times over the client knows exactly what they’re going to get.
Just like these craftsmen and women he photographs, Doug also believes in investing in his business creatively and growth professionally. Whenever he sets out to make a new photograph, he asks himself if what he is about to do, will be better than what he did yesterday? Or last week? Or 6 months ago? And if the answer is no, the next question is why? and who do I fix that? The goal is 6 months from now to hate the pictures he took this week, and 2 years from now hate the photographs he took a year and a half from now. He hopes his portfolio turns over and one can see the constant growth it posses, full of better work than it ever used to hold.