BEHIND THE LENS: PHOTOGRAPHER LEVI WALTON ON "THE TWENTIES" BEING AN ARTIST IN PANAMÁ, AND MOVING TO NEW YORK

I've been a fan of Levi Walton's work for quite some time now. If I remember correctly I believe I came across his photography a little over two years ago. It was incredibly refreshing seeing someone from Panama create art on such a pioneering contemporary level. It resonated with me coming across an artist who has the same cultural roots as myself, successfully using parts of our heritage and implementing it as a component in his conceptual work. However, that is only a fraction of the reason as to why Walton's work is so enlivening. It was only right that I use the first interview I have ever conducted to shed a very deserving light on his photography.

KAYLA REEFER: First things first! Let’s get the basic questions out of the way. How old are you? Hamburgers or Pizza? What is the best way to eat bacon? LEVI WALTON: "I'm 22 years young. Hamburgers or Pizza... what a tough choice. Burgers are heavenly, but so is Pizza. Best way to eat bacon? On a burger. Or on a pizza. Damn I'm hungry now."

How and when did you get into Photography? Is it something you have always wanted to do? "I was around 15 when I got my hands on my first camera. Before the time I didn't think about it too much, but after I got the hang of it I started getting creative, shooting anything I came across and making my friends get on board with all the crazy ideas I had."

Is your work strictly devoted to Photography or do you dabble in other creative mediums as well? "I am very into videography. I love shooting short films and clips, or just putting random reels together as a sort of video collage. I also like to draw (though I'm horrible at it) and I'm into cooking stuff and taking cool pictures of it -- does that also count?" 

I’ve realized you post new quality content, with different subjects, and fresh scenery on your Instagram on a daily basis.---How do you manage to stay at such a high level of productivity so consistently? "I try to keep moving, shoot every time I can, and carry my camera on me all the time. I just love the visual reward of it all; and I love sharing that feeling. I ask around for locations, scout models, find props, and just throw it all into a melting pot to come up with something visually appealing."

You have had your work featured in numerous photo exhibitions, art shows, galleries, and even the Panamanian press.---What do you take away from these accomplishments? Do they shape how you move forward as an artist; is there any added “pressure” to be more creative or successful? "I think it's weird. It's weird it's happening, but it's awesome. I say weird, because I never pictured it happening to me. It's been an overwhelming, thrilling ride, and I've been loving every second of it. It's a great feeling to know other people enjoy what you do. I remember hiding my photos from everyone out of fear of being mocked; never, ever do that! I feel like I have always pressured myself to be more creative, just because I love the visual aspect of everything, and success has just come along with the fun."

Your latest photo exhibition ‘The Twenties’ just had its debut at Armónica Shop. Tell us about how the concept for ‘The Twenties’ came about and the process of shooting for the project. "I worked alongside fellow photographer Majo Andrade, to create a set of images that described the experience of being in your twenties. Drunken nights, lazy mornings, frugal living, foggy car rides, breaking stuff, and making stuff. We worked with five models, and we alternated to shoot with them. I shot the digital part of the project, and Majo shot the analog part." 

How would you describe the modern/contemporary art culture of Panamá? "It is blooming, and at a very fast pace. There's a lot of talent here, and it's starting to get more and more noticed. I am happy for where this is all going, and for being able to contribute to it."

Where do you see the visual arts culture of Panamá in the future? "I hope to see more museums and spaces to work and share your art. There's a lot of new schools and programs for visual arts opening up in the city, so I'd say the future is bright for Panama."

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For some artists in Latin America there is a certain restraint on their visual expression due to the countries’ traditional values or socioeconomic factors.---Have you ever had to hold back on a vision or project because you felt that it would receive negative backlash? "This is a subject that has always interested me. In my mind, there's no taboo in art, and the more it makes you feel, the better. I just go ahead and do my thing; some pople feel offended, some hate it, some love it, but I feel that if my work evokes a feeling on the viewer, no matter the nature of it, then I'm satisfied with what I did. I'm often seen as an enfant terrible here in Panama because of this, but we're moving slowly but surely in the right direction. It's all mental barriers in the end, and they can be broken."

What advice (if any) would you give to other Panamanian artists looking to “break the mold”? "No matter how dumb it sounds in your head, DO IT! It can all be done, and no idea is too stupid, or too weird, or too random. Get out there and work your ass off, and don't be afraid to go wherever you want with your art."

You recently shared that you will be moving to NYC to continue your photography studies at the School of Visual Arts; Major congrats!---Was attending SVA always in your plan or did things happen spontaneously? "I've always dreamed of studying photography, but it's a difficult thing here in Panama. The thought was always in the back of my mind, and now that I feel I'm mature enough and confident enough in my work, I decided to apply to school and move abroad, and, surprisingly to me, I got accepted. Everything fell together quite nicely, it was surreal."

What are the first few thing(s) you plan on doing once you move to New York? Creative wise or just for fun. "I want to shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. Find awesome locations, meet great people, find subjects to shoot, and just dive deep into my craft. I also want to visit a few galleries on my list once I get there, and more than a few live shows."

Aside from the life-changing move to NYC, what’s next for Levi Walton? "Once I'm there, I wanna just flow with it. I'm excited for what's coming, it's a huge deal for me, and I'm more than happy to be able to share it with all of you. You'll hear from me, I promise!"

All photos © Levi Walton

All photos © Levi Walton

To see the rest of Levi's work, view his portfolio here

Follow him on Instagram at  @leviwaltonist


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Kayla Reefer

Photographer / Cinematographer