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La Fenice, Venice, Italy, 2008.

La Fenice, Venice, Italy, 2008. © David Leventi

I first saw one of David Leventi‘s Opera House prints at Exposed, the 2009 Critical Mass Top 50 exhibition at the PCNW, Seattle in March this year. To be honest, I struggled to access it. I am grateful therefore, for his interview with Sarina Finkelstein in which Leventi outlines his motivations and emotional response to these architectures. Toward the end, Leventi discusses his recent interest and move toward roundhouse prisons as subjects – and how they compare to opera houses:

“[Stateville Correctional Center, Joliet, IL] happens to be a reverse opera house. It has basically the same architectural structure as an opera house, but the difference is in who is observing who. In an opera house, the audience of many is observing a few. In a jail, it’s the reverse, giving me the opportunity as a photographer to better understand what it must feel like to be a tenor performing for a full house, albeit with a captive audience.”

Prisoners in their cells, Stateville Correctional Center, Joliet, IL, 2010. © David Leventi

Leventi adds, “I have always had stage fright. Photographing from the center of a round prison is pure anxiety. The in-mates are all yelling, jeering, talking, in cacophony. You become the center of attention and taking the photograph becomes a performance in itself.  At first, I was really intimidated, but then I blanked everything out and focused on photographing. It must be the same for the performer.”

Leventi adds that in the case of both opera houses and prisons, access is the most difficult aspect of his work. No surprise there!

All interesting stuff. I’ll be eager to see his continued progress on this subject matter. Roundhouse prisons are a rarity these days; Bentham’s Panopticon is more likely to crop up in discourses on philosophy than it is in those of criminology or correctional management.

Leventi’s images of opera houses and Stateville prison are reminiscent of some of Richard Ross’ photographs from Architecture of Authority. And, likewise, Leventi plans to look at churches and religious buildings, presumably drawing more parallels between these complete spaces.


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