Credit: Nick Romanenko
Position: Photographer for the department of intercollegiate athletics
Length of Service: Began freelancing for Rutgers in 1991; full time since 2000
What he does: Larry Levanti takes pictures, lots of them – for football, two basketball teams and two dozen other intercollegiate sports. He also shoots publicity photos for the plays produced by the department of theater arts at the Mason Gross School of the Arts.
A typical day: Levanti gets up early and hits the computer, where he can receive as many as 10 photo requests, and there’s usually a shot to be edited. Then he’s off doing deliveries to sports offices, meeting with coaches, back and forth to the photo labs, or tweaking one project or another. Three or four nights a week, as well as on the weekend, he could be shooting a game somewhere. He doesn’t punch a time clock, but his time is not his own. “You gotta love it,” Levanti says.
My office, my car: “My office?” says Levanti. “It’s out in the parking lot with four tires on it. In fact, it needs an oil change. How many offices do you know that need an oil change?”
Birth of a shutterbug: Levanti was 5 when his father, an avid photo buff, bought him a box camera, which he still has. He used it to take a few pictures, then left it alone until he was 13. “A buddy of mine had a developing kit, and when I saw prints come up in a tray for the first time I thought it was kind of neat. That Christmas, my parents bought me one.”
He got hooked not only on picture-taking but also on lab work. Later, he bought a single-lens reflex camera and began taking pictures for his high school newspaper and yearbook. His attention turned toward basketball in high school until he damaged his knee while taking a Presidential Physical Fitness Test. Upon entering Middlesex County College, he chose photography as a major.
Honing his skills: After graduation, Levanti freelanced wedding assignments, worked with studios in Elizabeth and Whitehouse Station, and had a brief stint doing corporate photography in the pharmaceutical industry. He then ran black-and-white processing for a New Brunswick photo store, where he met contacts that led to freelancing for Rutgers. Levanti credits wedding photography with helping him sharpen the skills needed to do his job today. “It taught me to work fast and to think on my feet. Things happen fast at a wedding. There are many different shots, candids, still-lifes – a whole career bottled into one day.”
A little help from his friends: On a visit to Madison Square Garden during high school, he bought a Knicks game program and was impressed by the photos taken by George Kalinsky. “I just saw him recently,” he says, “but to this day, I still can’t go up to him and say ‘You were one of my first influences in photography.’ ” He also credits Frank Peluso, a professor at Middlesex County College and later his boss in Whitehouse Station, as a key person in his photography education. “And of course, my guardian angel through all my time at Rutgers has been [Rutgers’ staff photographer] Nick Romanenko ,” he says. “He’ll just call me out of the blue to ask if everything is OK.”
Best Rutgers memory: Two years ago when the men’s basketball team went to the NIT championship, Levanti rode on the train to New York with 2,000 screaming Rutgers fans. He remembers “walking into the Garden and seeing the Rutgers vs. Michigan marquee. It was fun – what college sports is all about – the fans, the band, the cheerleaders and the game itself was pretty good too, even though we lost.”
How to take sports pictures: “There’s action all around you, but there’s a rhythm to it. And whether it’s the game, the band or the cheerleaders, once you figure out that rhythm, you’ll know when to press the shutter button. You have to judge the action and fire when it is at its peak,” advises Levanti. Today, he shoots all of his photographs using digital equipment.
Know someone who deserves to be in the spotlight? Contact Focus editor Carla Cantor at firstname.lastname@example.org.