Levi Wells is squinting over his tripod into the Wyoming sunset with the beginnings of a Cheshire grin. “The light,” he says, “is about to be perfect.”
Seven months after seeing his work for the first time, I’ve managed to get my hands on Levi Wells. He arrives with a single equipment bag and the confidence to assure me that’s all he’ll need.
We’re somewhere near the middle of nowhere, scouting scenes for a music video. It’s fortunate Levi has packed light. The set is a dilapidated, overgrown dairy farm on the Colorado/Wyoming border. It is aesthetically ideal… and enormously inaccessible. Levi traipses through the waist-high wheat fields and scales an impeding barn wall with obvious delight, firing off a round of visual notes with his camera. Entirely in his element, I get the feeling that when Levi’s looking, he’s working—picking through an incessant stream of visual information for just a handful of transcendent images.
Levi began by borrowing his friend’s cameras, returning them with roll after roll of shots from skate parks, rowdy basement punk shows, and portraits of those he encountered along the way. At seventeen, he bought his first camera from a bandmate, and with equal parts obsession and ambition, took his hobby to the next level. Levi is dyslexic and admits that school wasn’t his forte. His film education was his emergence into the world, a willingness to take on projects that interested him and learn as he went. From tiny Cody, WY, the second of eight children, Levi is rigorously self-taught and stylistically unique. Now twenty-five and traveling the world, Levi has turned his passion into profession.
Leaning against a fence between takes, showing me a still he’s taken of the band; Levi explains the gratification of his work. He shoots because he can think of no greater gift than the documentation of a fleeting moment in an individual’s life. He shoots meticulously because he understands his power to influence not only an individual’s memory with his chosen imagery, but more broadly, to shape his culture’s perception of an event. Levi, almost always grinning, almost always shooting, certainly is not daunted by this responsibility.