The following article by Diane Rechel appeared in the Feb. 7, 2002 issue of FlagLive!, Northern Arizona's Arts & Entertainment Weekly.
Debbie Leavitt : Photography that leaps Rock 2 Rock
Like a lizard, photographer Debbie Leavitt blends into her environment and captures it off guard. In her new exhibit, Rock 2 Rock, Leavitt pairs her legendary camera work of the 1980's rock-n-roll scene with her more recent work of abstract rock forms found in the Grand Canyon. It rocks.
Leavitt shows the strong connection between rock worlds by finding the softness and surprises of each. Whether it's Frank Zappa having tea, or a cottonwood leaf tossing in a boulder-filled stream, her photography leaves you feeling you've been there. It's like finally getting your own backstage pass. James Brown poses in mink. Eddie Van Halen plays guitar, Cyndi Lauper checks her perfect make-up. A river runs through a canyon - all seemingly unaware of Leavitt's lens.
Rock 2 Rock is at Brandy's Restaurant & Bakery at 1500 E. Cedar Avenue in Flagstaff from February 1 through 28. Everyone is invited to the Rock 2 Rock reception from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 7. The party promises music from the 1980s and Leavitt's trademark chocolate treats.
"Many of these photos have never been seen before," says Leavitt whose work has been in People, Rolling Stone, Newsweek, the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune and Playboy. Her list of celebrity photos is so long even she sometimes refers to it to remember who she's shot.
When Leavitt graduated from Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara in 1978, she cranked The Beatles on the eight-track in her Plymouth Gold Duster and cruised south to LA in search of rock-n-roll. There she found the music world that had inspired her since she was a kid in Chicago.
"Basically I'd show up at concerts with camera, take excellent photos and give them to the bands so they would let me into the next show for free," Leavitt explains. The bands and local area music magazines noticed Leavitt's photography and began to pay her for it. Her affiliation with California-based music magazines, such as BAM (Bay Area Music) opened many stage doors for her.
Leavitt's fine-tuned talent and low-key nature led her to work with Danny Elfman and Oingo Boingo, Tom Waits, R.E.M., Michael Jackson, Randy Newman, The Bangles, the band X and more. Leavitt took the first published shots of Dweezil and Moon Unit Zappa, and she captured Bob Dylan watching The Clash during his elusive times. Both images landed in Rolling Stone.
She was personal photographer to George Benson for many years. She photographed The Alarm on American Bandstand, James Brown in her apartment, hung out with the band X, and in her studio, Rod Stewart once jokingly stuck her in the butt with a hat pin. And Leavitt's career is caught on film in Duran Duran's tour movie, Quicksilver.
"If any college kid met me now they wouldn't know: she used to be cool, she used to have purple hair and used to shoot Devo," she says.
Leavitt's hair might have a touch of silver these days, but she's as cool as ever. She's never worked for anyone. "I like to call it paylance instead of freelance," she says. She's married to George Castleberry whom she met when he was managing the sound system at a Police/Oingo Boingo concert. They live in Flagstaff because it is close to the Grand Canyon.
She says, "Around 35 years old I switched from watching MTV to the Discovery Channel. I was ready to be around more rocks and trees than buildings and people. We take a couple of river trips a year."
Leavitt's love for Arizona's rocky terrain began when her parents gave her and George a Grand Canyon raft trip in 1987. "I kept coming back," says Leavitt. "The experience became deeper. It's hard to talk about. Hey, it changed my life, I moved to Flagstaff. This is my wild world now."
Just like with her celebrity shots, Leavitt gets up close and personal with plateau pools, crevices and their shapes and shadows. Leavitt's "Cloudpool" and "Deer Creek" are picnics for the soul. "I'm crazy out of my mind to think that I can express the hugeness and the glory of the Grand Canyon in a little tiny flat square," she says. "I know I am crazy and yes, still I must do it."
Leavitt's nature photography is exhibited for sale at Arizona Handmade Gallery at 13 N. San Francisco in Flagstaff and the Sedona Art Center.