The David Levine Interview
Since entering the world of photography, David Levine has captured a vast array of iconic images of stars, past and present: Mel & Kim, Boy George, Siouxsie Sioux, Kylie Minogue, The Cure and Steve Strange… are all but a small sample of David's many subjects, and his talent for truly capturing the spirit and character of those subjects made him a much sought-after and respected artist in his own right. Here, David reminisces on his three photo shoots with Mel & Kim, who he says, "were always happy. Always full of love and life - and funny".
David, what sparked your love for photography?
I had wanted to be a photographer ever since I was very young - probably from about six years old. My uncle was a keen photographer and I think that’s probably where I first got my interest from. That interest then developed when I was at school and took part in one of the photography days in my art classes. The first time I saw a black and white print develop, I was truly hooked.
You shot the sisters in 1987, at the height of their fame. How many sessions did you guys undertake together, and are there any unseen sessions?
I did three sessions with Mel and Kim, and I'm pretty sure everything we shot was used for either magazines or newspapers., at the time.
How were Mel & Kim to work with?
They were a pleasure. They were always full of fun and there were never any complications. The days were easy and we were always on the same wavelength, which really helps. They always had ideas, and I had my input, and we always worked well together as a team. Both girls moved really well in front of camera and they looked good... always spot-on with their styling.
How hands-on were the girls when it came to that styling and how their image was projected?
They were very much involved, as any good act is. They had input into all aspects of their career and they were definitely the leaders of their style and their projected image. We made some great pictures between us.
Prior to your first session, were you aware of Mel & Kim’s music and image?
Everybody knew who Mel and Kim were! They were on the radio all the time, their pictures were in magazines and they were on Top Of The Pops. They were a big act and they had a big impact. I was certainly very excited when I got the call to do my first session with them.
Being famed for capturing the characters of your subjects in your photographs, your pairing with Mel & Kim was destined to produce some wonderful results. Like Mel & Kim themselves, did you have a clear idea of what you wanted your photographs of the sisters to portray?
Mel & Kim's energy, excitement and vibrancy was always very positive and I wanted my pictures to capture their personalities, their fresh excitement, and their vibrancy. They were just really very lovely girls and I think I certainly made that come across in my pictures.
Some of your iconic shots of Mel & Kim, which until now were unpublished, have finally been released as part of your debut photography book, 'David Levine Exposed 1977 – 1987'. Why did you decide to produce a book of your work and how did you decided what shots to use?
People have been asking me whether I was going to produce a book for years, and it has always been something I've had in mind. The final selection of images in the book was based on two things - obviously, popularity and success of an image at the time, but also images that maybe people had never seen, or of bands that people may never have heard of, but for various reasons, have significance in the development of my work and career.
You originally captured your images on film. How did you feel about embracing the digital movement?
I was very excited about the development of digital photography, unlike a lot of photographers. I started using it immediately and I have been shooting digitally now since 1999. Since starting work on my book, I have realised just how much of my work is missing due to film never being returned by record companies, bands and magazines. Had digital photography been available from the beginning of my career, I would have had an exact record of everything I shot.
How did you feel about one of your shots being used on the 12” picture disc for That’s The Way it Is?
You know, I was never aware that my picture was used on the 12" picture disk, though that's not unusual, unfortunately! Still, to this day, I’m finding my work used on many different products and, sadly for me, usually without payment.
Looking back, what are your lasting memories of working with Mel & Kim? Are there any fun stories from the shoots you could share?
It was a very sad time when the sessions ended, for reasons we know about, but Mel & Kim were always happy, always full of love and life, and they were funny. Are there any fun stories from my shoots with the sisters? Yes, but I'm not telling!
Check out David's brand new book: