Howard LeVant papers, 1950-2009
The Howard LeVant Papers consist almost entirely of photographs; of those, most are the final versions of his work for clients. The great majority of the prints are mounted on white foam core boards for protection and for ease of transport and display to clients.
The first and largest series, Photographs, is divided into five subseries that reflect the major periods of LeVant’s commercial career: the King firm in Cleveland, Shigeta-Wright in Chicago; LeVant/Ditlove in Chicago; and LeVant Photography in Chicago; the fifth subseries, Personal, contains some of LeVant’s non-commercial photography shot for personal reasons throughout his career, both in Chicago and elsewhere. Within these subseries the items are arranged alphabetically by titles created by LeVant (and reproduced on typed labels affixed to the reverse of each print; the labels also indicate clients and sometimes advertising agencies).
The second series, Printed Materials, also document LeVant’s work for corporate clients, but as reproduced in printed and published items. Genres include annual reports, brochures, magazines, catalogues, and product packaging.
The third series, Chromes, contain LeVant’s commercial photograph as captured on color positive photographic film sheets (most sized 7.75” by 9.75”, with some smaller). They do not duplicate the print images found in the first series (Photographs).
The fourth series, Student Work, contains prints submitted by his students at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
The fifth series, Digital Files, consists of CDs produced by LeVant during his retirement and contain both images and texts documenting/explaining his commercial work.
The sixth series, Shigeta Wright, contains examples of images produced by others at that firm besides LeVant (George Wright and Harry Shigeta).
- LeVant, Howard (Person)
Biographical / Historical
Howard LeVant was born in Chicago in the mid-1930s and raised on its North Side, attending Rogers Grammar School and then Nicholas Senn High School (5900 N. Glenwood), from which he graduated in 1954. His interest in photography was firmly established during his Senn years.
At the urging of his family he pursued higher education in Chicago, enrolling in the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Institute of Design (commonly known as “ID”) in the fall of 1954. At the time ID was still housed on the near North Side, at 632 N. Dearborn, where its instructors largely retained a European focus on the fine arts. LeVant’s instructors focused his first-year studies on design, painting, and sculpture. Among them, Aaron Siskind was particularly instrumental in teaching LeVant the importance of “seeing” (recognizing characteristics of lighting and composition in scenes) before framing a statement; only then should photographic techniques be considered to make the scene work.
With the relocation of ID to its new location in the basement of S.R. Crown Hall on IIT’s main campus in 1956, many of its students departed as they feared that the main campus’ preponderantly tech atmosphere would undermine ID’s bohemian character and artistic freedom. Indeed, as LeVant later recollected, many of ID’s gay students transferred elsewhere at this point. The move also occurred soon after the hiring of Jay Doblin as ID’s new director, whose focus on industrial design (many of its faculty and students believed) came at the expense of broader artistic training. LeVant, who felt that he had already gained his core education while ID was still on the North Side, decided to stay. Indeed, when he finally graduated from ID in 1958, he and one other graduate were the only survivors from ID’s group of thirty-five Photo majors from the fall of 1954.
Even with LeVant’s determination to be “flexible” (his term) in adapting to ID at a point of institutional transition, his strong personality caused strains even with his closest instructors—including Siskind, who urged LeVant to take some time away from the program. As a result, LeVant apprenticed with Chicago photographer Jack Desort for half of his senior year credit and learned the “business end” of commercial photography.
Following his graduation from ID in 1958, LeVant served in the Air Force for a year. In September of 1959 he settled in Cleveland (where a relative was a businessman) and obtained work in a design studio. In September 1962 he left Cleveland and returned to Chicago for work at the Shigeta-Wright Studio, where he quickly became one of three staff photographers. In June 1964 he left Shigeta-Wright and founded LeVant/Ditlove Studios with Michel Ditlove. They remained in partnership for five years, after which LeVant set out on his own with LeVant Photography—which was his platform until he again left Chicago in 1978.