If you’re not familiar with the work of artist Jon Luvelli, it’s very possible you may have caught a glimpse of him in the heart of The District. Luvelli is best known for his ability to flawlessly capture emotion while accomplishing impeccable detail and contrast. You would expect an artist of his caliber to have an attitude, but that is not the case with this Columbia son. Despite Luvelli’s reclusive public persona, it only took a short moment with him to realize that he’s a personable man with an intense desire to help others.
Luvelli was drawn to photography as a child.
“When I was 5 years old, I was looking out my bedroom window waiting for my father to get home,” he says. “I was staring at a tree daydreaming when all of a sudden my eyes shifted to my reflection in the window. I was instantly captivated by mixing the two perspectives together and understanding that looking at both at the same time was unattainable with the human eye. I called out for my mother to come view what I had discovered. I wanted to capture the image and show both views to my friends. My passion for documenting the world as I see it started from that very day.”
Luvelli’s work is romantically raw with a gritty macabre feel. He has coined his own term to describe what he is: a fine art documentarian, a mixture of street, fine art and documentary photographer. Photography is a refuge and release for him.
“Photography gives me a way to take the hurricane of feelings, emotions and ideas and tunnel them into one force,” he says.
Luvelli never studied photography. “I am self-taught; I’ve never had any formal training in photography,” he says. “The education that I’ve had was reading the manual and I went out and started shooting.”
Luvelli considers Columbia his “home base” and finds it has a calming effect on him. “Columbia’s my small town,” he says. “I love it. I’ve shot every inch of this place.”
One part of Columbia has held a particular fascination for him: the one-block stretch of Ninth Street between Broadway and Cherry.
“It’s such an eclectic area,” he says. “It’s like a baby Portland almost. It’s magical. You’ll see all walks of life on Ninth Street.”
He was so inspired by Ninth Street he wanted to dedicate time to capture its essence, and the series One Block was born.
Luvelli shot the block over a period of three years, while dealing with the personal struggles of his fiancée going through breast cancer, the deaths of his mother and father, and dealing with intense anxiety attacks. Luvelli prefers to work mostly late at night, capturing iconic images of Columbia’s local color. Unlike other photographers who quickly click off a series of shots, Luvelli snaps a single, calculated shot. “If I don’t get the capture I can accept that,” he says, “but machine gunning shots is not art.”
Close to 100 of Luvelli’s carefully calculated images from that one block of Ninth Street have been published in a large-format, collector’s publication, fittingly title One Block. The book became available for purchase online and in bookstores internationally on Sept. 25, with 200 exclusively signed copies available only in Columbia.
One Block is a compelling collection of images, and would be an immense accomplishment for any photographer.