Work of World Renowned Street Photographer Finds Home at State Historical Society of Missouri, Art Currently on Exhibition
Acclaimed street photographer Jon Luvelli is establishing a collection of his works within the State Historical Society of Missouri’s permanent art collection. Luvelli’s fine art photography has garnered worldwide attention for its distinguished images of Midwestern townscapes.
A selection of these newly acquired photographs is currently on display at the State Historical Society’s Columbia art gallery on the ground floor of Ellis Library.
A native of Como, Italy, Luvelli was raised in a rural farm town near Columbia, Missouri. According to Joan Stack, SHSMO’s curator of art collections, his work casts an aesthetic spotlight on contemporary life in the rural routes and small-town streets of the Show-Me State.
“Luvelli avoids stereotypical visions of country life in favor of black-and-white works picturing people and places most individuals overlook or sometimes choose to ignore,” Stack said. “By allowing spectators to view twenty-first-century central Missouri through an artist’s eye, Luvelli helps us better understand the state and its people.”
In an August 7, 2016, review of Luvelli’s Unseen Columbia exhibition at the Boone County Historical Society, Aarik Danielsen, Columbia Daily Tribune arts and entertainment editor, wrote that Luvelli captures Columbia’s collective history through his focus on the unnoticed.
“All are equal in Luvelli’s viewfinder,” Danielsen wrote. “The children and aged, the black and white, the police and the passed-out in the street. The photographer forces us to reckon with economic realities we would do anything not to see.”
Stack said Luvelli’s work also conveys social messages, never shying away from the complicated subjects of racism, poverty, sexuality, abuse, and addiction.
“Black-and-white photography suits these subjects,” Stack said. “The stark contrasts of light and dark call attention to a quotidian world in the shadows, and subtle variations of gray encourage us to find beauty in forms customarily viewed as unsightly.”
Luvelli’s work augments the State Historical Society of Missouri’s diverse art collection, which includes photographs of the American West by Edward Curtis, Thomas Hart Benton’s Year of Peril World War II series, numerous paintings by George Caleb Bingham, and many other pieces illustrating Missouri’s regional and westward expansion history.
Missouri State Historical Society. (2017). Street Photography. Retrieved from https://shsmo.org/news/2017/11/20
STREETHUNTERS BOOKSHELF: JON LUVELLI’S ONE BLOCK
I am honored to have one of the best photography magazines review my book!
Read the interview at http://tinyurl.com/j75txhg
Doing some street photography with the Ricoh GR II answering questions, hanging out with friends and meeting people. Join Us!
Posted by Luvelli on Saturday, April 9, 2016
Like myself, anyone can lose their balance due to the rugged obstacles throughout life. Instead of spending time putting emphasis on losing balance, I would much rather glorify the moment when you realize your mental balance has been restored. In my photo above, I captured an image that symbolizes the restoring of balance that personally represents the difficult year I’ve overcome.
When I first focused in on this sculpture from across the street, the man in focus was walking or falling down the globe structure. Within that split second I related myself to this oversize sculpture and wanted to share that moment in the positive way I choose to perceive it. The best way to accomplish this was for me to rotate the photo ninety degrees to the right. Now I ask, instead of falling why can’t he be regaining his balance and finding his stability on the awkward foundation he has found himself on?
Every challenge we take on has the power to shake us. When we feel the ground beneath us shifting, we become uneasy. We forget everything we know and allow fear to affect us. Just the thought of what could happen is enough to throw us off balance. What I’ve learned is that the only way to endure the quake is to adjust your stance. These experiences are really gifts that force us to step to the right or left in search of a new center of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a different way to stand.
When one feels off balance and as if they’re sliding down hill, simply turn the perspective of your situation and realize that by one slight rotation of thought, you can completely turn an unbalanced mental state, into a regained balance and stability.
Balance lives in the present. In this very moment, you’re still breathing, you’ve survived and most of all you’ve found a new place to move your feet so you can step onto higher ground.
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It began while I was taking a stroll down my favorite street, Ninth Street, in the heart of Columbia, Missouri. This street homes the famous blue note, where for years has been a hub to many great performers ranging from blues, rock n roll, rap, country, and alternative music, it’s an amazing venue. Next to that, stands one of my favorite coffee shops in the world, Coffee Zone, where you can get a delicious cappuccino, caramel macchiato, or some Turkish coffee. They also have some of the best desserts to offer that will melt in your mouth, while enjoying your java. This town is my getaway of getaways. I feel like I’m on a vacation every time I’m there, every turn of a corner in this unique downtown area lays mystery, peace, and beauty that are just waiting to be discovered.
It was about ten o’clock in the morning, I was waiting for a friend while sitting outside enjoying my coffee watching the steam rise in to the crisp, warm air and I looked over and noticed an open door and a hint of gold glitter that shimmered from the sun, this instantly caught my eye. I immediately got out of my chair and went to investigate just to see what business this could possibly be. I looked inside, there was a beautiful gold, glittery staircase and there was graffiti all over the walls, the steep hallway had seemed endless to the top. I felt as though I was Indiana Jones, like I discovered something magical. I began to follow this glittery, yellow brick stairway, into the Land of Oz, that is Leo’s.
As soon as I stepped foot at the top of the steps, there was a mecca of amazing thrifty stuff that just blew my mind. I knew then that this was gold. I thought to myself, “This is awesome! I love this stuff. This is so cool!” The first thing I saw was a mannequin with a gas mask on. Next, I saw a cat perched on top of the counter. It was just the chilliest place you could ever see. There were vintage hats, coats, wigs, old vinyl records, and a massive amount of shoes. It was just “wow”, it was breath taking. It was one of the most eclectic shops I have ever been to. So, I spent time shooting throughout this store for hours, I was consumed by waves of inspiration and creativity. After a few shots, I decided to do a project because I felt that everyone should see what a prized gem I found in the midst of a small town.
After I finished shooting, I spent a few moments chatting with the owner, his heart and passion is to travel across the world to find interesting things for his patrons to purchase and enjoy. Throughout his time traveling he became a quick collector of vintage and surplus clothing, shoes, and random vintage décor. Never in the market to buy clothing from customers, as many vintage stores do, the Leo’s owner, on the other hand, prides himself on finding everything that he sells or rents in random locations from around the world. With a knack for hoarding, in the year of 1972, Leo’s soon became the ideal place for him to keep everything he finds, while making a little profit. In the meantime, while he is at his store he is usually restoring clothing that he finds using his sewing machine or bringing in new things that he has found.
Take the time to explore the things around you, you don’t want to miss out on the magnificent things and opportunities that could be right in front of your eyes.
Here is my journey through this amazing maze of vintage.
CLICK IMAGES BELOW TO VIEW SLIDESHOW.
At the onset of golden hour, I was walking down Broadway Blvd. in Columbia Missouri where I’m currently working on two projects. I was taking some street shots as I religiously do, and started getting hungry. I knew what I wanted, the steak fajita nachos from a local restaurant in the downtown district. As I started walking towards the establishment, I noticed the closer I got to the restaurant the louder this music was getting. I was thinking to myself what the hell is that, who is playing that music so loud, as it’s usually kind of quiet downtown. I made a sharp right turn around the corner and instantly noticed an older model white van with all of its doors open using bungee cords to keep them from closing. When I reached the rugged vehicle I noticed a man in his late 50’s playing the drums inside. Tom Sawyer by Rush was blaring with an overlay of the man drumming trying to keep time with Neil Peart. So I started shooting some shots. I stopped to talk to him when the song was over, and with a smile on his face he pivoted in his chair and turned down his radio. Without knowing it at the time, the strangeness of a man playing the drums in the back of his van was just the tip of this man’s adventure.
I introduced myself, asked his name and if he was from the area. He quickly responded, “Jay Parks and I’m currently kind of from Russellville Missouri, but I don’t have any property there anymore. I’m not real sure. I’m looking at a lot of things. At the end of the summer I hope to know what to do with my life.” In the same breathe he continued with… “But I am getting healthy enough to go back to work. I can actually run in place, to where I couldn’t even stand in line to cash a check two years ago.”
I simply wanted to take some shots, because it was so intriguing seeing someone with a full drum set playing in the back of their automobile. This truly brings a new meaning to the term traveling musician. I received a little more information than I expected. J At his first, slight pause I asked him why he was playing his drums in his van. He explained, “I had drums in my room and I liked them. I had a house fire when I was a teenager. My brother and some of his friends were drunk at three o’clock in the morning and they put an aerosol can in a wood fire stove. I woke up to a big fire swirling.” Then he went on to tell me he loved music as a teenager and was particularly passionate about playing the drums. After the fire destroyed his first set he told himself he wasn’t going to lose his drums again. Shortly after purchasing a new set, he opted out of putting them in his house and instead put them in his green van. “I purchased this white van after the green van I had the drums in broke down…”
I was impressed by the unconventional masterpiece he had created in the open space of his van. Not only did he have a full PV drum set, he had also collected random items from thrift stores to use as additional instruments he attached to the drums. Along the walls he constructed wooden shelves where he stored nearly 500 CD’s and cassettes. To create an optimal sound experience he attached so many speakers to the interior that I couldn’t even begin to count them.
It was apparent that he was now living out of this van with the piles of pillows, blankets, and scattered clothing, and without even asking, he confirmed he had indeed been homeless and on the road for a little over two years. I asked if he was traveling around the state or if he mostly stayed in the central Missouri area. “Yeah, but I’m not doing it on purpose. I want to see my sister in Montana and I want to go to Oregon and I want to see a friend in Idaho. My grandparents were from Oregon and I want to go to the ocean where I have a lot of good memories as a child.”
As passionate as he’s been about protecting and playing his drums, he’s equally as passionate about reconnecting with his distant family.
”My daughter called me out of the blue from an airport to say ‘goodbye, mom and me are going to Germany’, she was only 8.”
His full smile quickly turned sadden as he explained to me that he was only able to fly to Germany once to see his daughter when she was in her early twenties. Unfortunately she was diagnosed with a terminal illness and passed away several month later.
His life took a drastic turn for the worst when he suffered an injury three years ago. “I walked into a trailer hitch, it went from a little hole in my leg to almost eating my leg off. The doctor said if I didn’t put my feet up I was dead. I didn’t believe him, but a month later I was in the emergency room. I still have a rash I’m overcoming from that. It was wild where I didn’t even want to show my hands to anybody because they looked like the hulk. It was definitely warped looking, I think my immune system tried to make extra skin.” Now not only was Ray injured and unable to work, he was also left homeless after the winds of the Joplin tornado took the roof off of his trailer.
Before his injury he made a living fixing organs for churches throughout Missouri. Recently he’s been able to get back to his work and fix a few organs a month, but I was intrigued to find out what he would rather do than fix organs. “I am getting back into working with organs where I can make a living, but right now I feel like I need to go help my brother Troy. I would like to get him to go on the road with me because he’s old and stupid, plus he thinks he’s smarter than me, not to mention he’s a Buddhist, which is okay, but I’m Christian.” He mentions that they will determine their destination by tossing a penny on a map of the northwestern part of the United States and end up where ever the penny lands. Until he can talk his brother into going on the road with him, Ray is adamant about making his own itinerary, which includes working when he wants, playing the drums in church and, “playing the drums to whatever’s on the radio.”
He explained to me why he parks at the same spot in downtown Columbia to play as much as he can.
“I’ve been down here about ten times, on Broadway. It’s just one of those places where you’re allowed to go and I’ve never had the police called on me. I’ve been playing in churches the last several Sundays because they needed a drummer. I feel honored actually to be sitting at these churches and to be involved in what they’re doing, because I listen to the radio and practice for opportunities like that.”
He’s been through a lot and still manages to keep his head above the water. After our stimulating conversation I went and enjoyed my nachos, feeling pleased as it always makes me happy to meet unique individuals.
Four hours later, on my way home from shooting, he was still banging away. It’s so great to see people living life the way they want.
Oscar Mayer Wienermobile in Columbia, Missouri 1995. – LUVELLI
The Wienermobile is a part of American History and a great memory from my childhood. The first version was created in 1936 by Oscar Mayer’s nephew, Carl G. Mayer.
The 1995 version, I photographed, was 27 feet long and 11 feet high. It was built on a purpose-built chassis with Pontiac Grand Am headlights and Pontiac Trans Am taillights. It was one badass wiener!
It cruised down the main street and heads were turning, everyone waving at the “Hotdoggers”, the title Oscar Mayer gave to the drivers of the Wienermobile. If you were lucky a Hotdogger would hand you a toy whistle shaped as a replica of the Wienermobile. Fond memories were made, but I have since misplaced my Wienerwhistle. LUVELLI
I was out as usual shooting the streets and ran into a couple of performers. At first I just got a shot, “Expect Us” (featured below) inspired by the relation of the mask and the persons facial expression.
The artists then begin to play, I listened for a minute and after they finished a freestyle that was it! I had to go further than just get the shot, I wanted to document how I felt at the time.
Being a street photographer still images are my favorite medium of art, but I had to let the world hear what I just witnessed. I quickly ran up to the two performers and said, “Hey, wanna make a music video”, at first they were like, “Sure, when”, I said, “Now! They were thrown back and agreed. I went to the closest light source I had available, a parking garage. They asked what they should do, I said, “Just start playing”. I started the video and it was on! I was holding the camera with one hand and motioning them to move with me and stop when I wanted.
It was a shaky video and sometimes out of focus, but that’s not what it’s about, it’s about the moment. I was very happy to have had the opportunity to meet such talented artists. I will continue to create “Spontaneous Videos” when the situation presents itself.
Expect Us. by LUVELLI