With 119K followers, Lucas Levitan’s “Photo Invasion” project has been a great success story. The Voice Of London met the artist at his book launch party in North-East London to chat about his “photo stealing” technique, inspiration behind his illustrations, as well as what the future holds.
Words: Julia Tsilman. Subeditor: Tenelle Ottley-Matthew
Lately, Instagram and its users have been labelled everything from unoriginal to fake, with parodies like Socality Barbie making fun of Instagram’s aesthetics and its #liveauthentic hashtag, as well as Youtubers like Essena O’Neill criticising the social network for being too commercialised and promoting superficial values. However, like any other tool or platform, Instagram is only as good or bad as we make it to be – @lucaslevitan’s feed is a prime example of how Instagram can be used to produce original content. The artist admits that his project “Photo Invasion”, as well as the recently launched book under the same name, would never have come to life without the space for creativity and collaboration that Instagram has to offer.
A Brazilian multimedia artist, Lucas has been living in London for the past decade. “I used to run a small advertising and design agency back home, so I moved here expecting to stay for just a year to do an MA in Art and Design at Camberwell College of Arts”, he told us. “But London is very addictive.” After meeting and collaborating with loads of nice and creative people, Lucas decided to postpone his return home. He has been living in Stoke Newington ever since, excited about all the new cafes and galleries opening around him on a weekly basis. “There’s so much going on here, I always feel inspired to do and enjoy more”, Lucas said. “London allowed me to develop my personal projects while freelancing in advertising.”
“Photo Invasion” is the most recent and so far most well-known of his projects, which flourished on Instagram and “is a crossover of two passions – illustration and photography”. It started with Lucas trying to transform the meaning of his own photos by illustrating them with funny characters, which then evolved into a collaborative process. “I thought it might be interesting to mix and match partnerships with friends or other photographers, and Instagram was the perfect platform to hunt for my ‘victims’”, said the artist. Since then he has been “stealing” others’ instagrams, turning ordinary images into odd and hilarious new stories. Lucas’ creative genius is loved by Instagram users, and especially by his “victims”
When “travelling around Instagram”, using hashtag #IWantToBeInvaded, Lucas isn’t interested in quality of the picture. Instead, he’s looking for a photo that will surprise him. Lucas has a deep admiration for others’ work and hopes his “stealing” is seen as a “honourable form of robbery”: “I try to create a partnership between my drawing and the original photograph – the intention is not to take over but to build a new story together.” The sources are always credited, so many of his “victims” have become his friends and/or thanked him for introducing their feeds to his thousands of followers.
Inspiration Behind the Characters
If you are familiar with Lucas’ personages, the fact that cartoons and contemporary art spark his imagination won’t surprise you. “Cartoonists like Gary Larson, Saul Steinberg, Quino and Laerte” have influenced his illustration style massively. As have his visits to exhibitions at Hayward Gallery or Tate Modern which he always leaves “with tons of new ideas in the sketchbook.” A number of Lucas’ projects and illustrations have been planned in coffee shops straight after such trips, and the same also applies to some of our favourite characters from “Photo Invasion”.
Lucas can’t pick a favourite, because every single character comes with an individual storyline. “I tried to create a world behind each one of them”, said Lucas. “For instance, Alfredinho Cueca is a musician who doesn’t know how to play an instrument, Alba is a promiscuous and voluptuous girl, and Alfred Milimovitchenko is a painter with just one artwork.” You can read more about life stories and everyday adventures of his different personages here.
Creative Autonomy and the Book Launch
Lucas values his creative freedom above everything else, so he avoids using photos suggested by others. “I usually visit their gallery searching for an alternative, because the selected image comes with too much expectation and preconceived solution”, he told us. This ambition to protect creative independence, as well as create a dialogue with the audience, is what motivated Lucas to crowdfund the printing of the “Photo Invasion” paperback. “Contacting publishers and doing it old-fashioned way was an option, but I chose to leave the power to the followers”, said Lucas. “It was a wise decision as I doubled my target and stayed true to the essence of the project which is all about people’s participation.”
As more Instagram users continue to discover “Photo Invasion” and share Lucas’ humorous illustrations, brands started to get in touch with him about product placement opportunities. However, Lucas believes stubbornly that the attraction of Instagram lies in how it sparks collaboration and dialogue between the users. Thus, “turning the feed into a commercial channel” definitely isn’t a part of his plan.
After a decade spent in London, he doesn’t feel the urge to return to Brazil. “Once you move to another place, you become a sort of nomad”, he told us. “Though leaving London for the unknown would be scary, I’m always considering moving to a different place.” Madrid has been on his mind since his first trip to Spain – his wife’s homeland: “It’s an incredible place with the sort of lifestyle I enjoy, so I’m meeting some Spanish illustrators and researching a way to settle there for a couple of years.”
But no need to panic. Despite being busy with planning, and although “Photo Invasion” is a time-consuming project and Lucas has been getting extra commissions as an illustrator lately because of it, he doesn’t intend to freeze it anytime soon. Besides, wouldn’t it be interesting to see how characters and humour of “Photo Invasion” evolve in a different location? What new exciting projects would Spain inspire? There is only one way to find out: follow Lucas Levitan on Instagram and don’t forget to use #IWantToBeInvaded.
The “Photo Invasion” paperback can be purchased here for £15 – it would make a wonderful Christmas present.
Lucas can also be found here: