|1895, 11 November - 1950, 12 October
|US, NY, Rochester
Approved biography for Alexander Leventon
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)
Leventon made and exhibited creative photographs from the mid-1920s to the mid-1940s, and was one of the few pictorialists to concentrate on portraits. He spent most of his adult life in Rochester, New York, where he was a noted musician.
Alexander Leventon was born on November 11, 1895, in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. He began studying violin at the age of seven and was performing four years later. After receiving a law degree from the University of Moscow, he went to Vienna in 1914 to continue his musical studies, and at the outbreak of World War I was jailed there as a civilian. Four years later, he escaped and returned to Rostov, where he taught music and joined the White Russian Army. In 1921, Leventon left Russia for Turkey and the next year immigrated to the United States.
He initially lived with his aunt in New York, but in 1923 was hired by the Eastman Theater Orchestra in Rochester. For the next seventeen years, he was first violinist or concertmaster with a number of Rochester orchestras. He retired around 1940 but returned briefly to the Rochester Philharmonic in the late 1940s.
Leventon made snapshots as a child, but his serious interest in photography began in the mid-1920s, when he wife gave him a camera for Christmas. In 1928, the young professional musician opened a portrait studio with Bryon Morgan in Rochester. The enterprise was short-lived, but he continued making pictorial portraits after it closed. His subjects included famous musicians who performed in Rochester, such as Leonard Bernstein and Sergei Rachmaninoff, and local business and civic leaders like George Eastman.
Leventon was capable of rendering his sitters in poses that were bold and modernist as well as gentle and traditional. With his son, Boris, he used the latter approach, producing his most popular portrait. Titled Russian Boy, the picture was widely reproduced and exhibited; in 1931 it appeared as a photogravure in the portfolio Pictures from the Tyng Collection, issued by the Royal Photographic Society, of which he was a member.
Leventon participated in numerous pictorial activities, primarily during the 1930s. He joined the Pictorial Photographers of America and in 1934 was a charter member of the Photographic Society of America. In 1930, he summered in Europe, visiting such leading photographers as Léonard Misonne, Frantisek Drtikol, Hugo Erfurth, and J. Dudley Johnston. Upon returning to the States, he spoke to camera clubs about his odyssey and wrote articles about some of the individuals he had encountered.
Leventon’s work was reproduced in photographic monthlies such as American Photography, Camera Craft, and Photo Era, which regularly featured his accomplished portraits. From the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s, up to thirty-four of his prints per season were accepted at salons. He sometimes helped judge the Rochester salon and exhibited domestically at Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Outside the country, his work was accepted in Toronto, London, Turin, and Bombay. In 1958, the George Eastman House hung a solo show of his portraits of musicians in its study room. On October 12, 1950, Alexander Leventon died in Rochester, after suffering a heart attack.
Christian A. Peterson Pictorial Photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Christian A. Peterson: Privately printed, 2012)
This biography is courtesy and copyright of Christian Peterson and is included here with permission.
Date last updated: 1 June 2013.
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