After conquering photojournalism, Lauri Levenfeld, is now setting her sights on #The Project for Women (TPFW), an online venture dedicated for women. We caught up with the entrepreneur to get the scoop on her plans to change how we see women in the workforce and that whole life/work balance thing as well her experience in documenting Nelson Mandela.
Photo by Andrea Posadas
Can you reveal to us a childhood experience which influenced your business career, especially your relation with photography?
As a child I was continuously creating and dreaming up ways to create my own business. I started as a traveling salesman going door-to-door selling my poor neighbors anything I had crafted or curated, pretty much every other day. I then, went on to create my own animal, dance, and gymnastics classes and clubs for the local kids and wrote and directed my first production at age 8 (painting backdrops and creating scripts for each "actor"). Luckily I had the most supportive mom who pitched in to buy the treats at the concession stand so I could make a little profit off my efforts. Art was always a big part of my life, expressing myself through creativity. I experimented with every possible discipline and only found photography late in my college career while attending USC Film School.
My dad was an entrepreneur and a great business man, he taught me the value of working hard and the benefit of working for yourself. After I graduated from college and got my first job documenting Nelson Mandela. I realized that I wanted to travel the world to experience all types of people. I was dedicated to working very hard, but never in an office job or with a 9-5 schedule.
Which person has inspired you throughout your career? Why?
I could never pick out just one person, as everyday through the eyes of my forum theprojectforwomen.com. I am connected to the most admirable and amazing women. Hands down Nelson Mandela was a huge inspiration to me, and most fortunately, my starting grace and first job. But it is the women in my life that have taught me so much about the unlimited potential and the ability to balance one's passions, career, love of family and love of life. I feel blessed by my work that I encounter women of all different disciplines (the best in their fields), living in many different lands, and most importantly, of all ages. My prodigy section dedicated to women under 30 is one of my most inspiring sections, as I love to learn from the generations before and after me.
Suzanne Sands by Lauri Levenfeld
A few stand out women that have truly touched me due to their incredible passion and love for others are Kristina Wandzilak who overcame a life of addiction living and on the streets to become an addiction interventionist, writing a best -seller and staring on a TV show dedicated to helping others through recovery. Skai Jackson, prodigy star of Disney's Bunk'd, who at 14 years old is already standing up to the social media practices of bullying and supporting women who inspire and lead positively instead. Suzanne Sands, a mother, who has started a relentless march and movement to eliminate child trafficking and labor slavery through her work with Made in a Free World. Jane Chen for embrace innovations is the ultimate super woman-creating an incubator to save babies lives, then a swaddle to help them sleep, her company now uses the Tom's model of 1:1 where every commercial purchase sponsor a baby in need. And then there's Zanna Roberts Rassi, with her amazing fashion zest, tom-boy style and love of life, twins and celebrity. As the Senior Fashion Editor for Marie Claire, this lady finds time to travel the world with E Television, Project Runway, and in her spare time, has now co-created the line Milk Makeup with her husband.
How did your initial process to establish The Project for Women originate? Could you provide us with a business insight?
TPFW came about due to my desire to get back to storytelling and my roots in photojournalism and documentary. I had recently gave birth to my daughter Harley and I was in the midst of trying to find balance between being a mom and an artist. Both my babies.
In thinking about what inspired me, I realized it was WHO inspired me and that I was continuously drawn to, driven by and inspired all around by the moms and women in my life as they were all doing amazing things.
I wanted to create a platform to inspire others through the stories of women and to build a community where women could network and align themselves with one another. I hoped, the stories I told would not only tell the success stories of each woman I documented (what they do), but the human trial and tribulations both professionally and personally of who they are and why/ how they got to where they are today because of it. My goal to show the real aspects of each women through life, business, and its achievements in between.
Tell us about your experience photographing Nelson Mandela.
My very first official job as a freelance photographer was, in so many respects, my most cherished experience. I was chosen to fly solo to Memphis, Tennessee to capture the great Nelson Mandela. He is such an inspiring and incredible man to be in the presence of. I will never forget his gentle ways, beautiful smile, and the memories of such an incredible opportunity. Oh and his joyous laugh as my lens cap rolled between his legs, as I fumbled for my first shot. I am forever indebted to the incredible freedom fighters and my most important mentors, Danny Glover and Hari Dillon, for giving me the chance.
Photo by Lauri Levenfeld
What is a recent chief achievement with The Project for Women? What are your challenges?
Well, my daughter definitely believes it's photographing Skai Jackson for my prodigy section (I now believe too!). She is truly an old-soul with so much wisdom to share. And we have created a magical fashion editorial for June with some of TPFW's favorite designers including Lubov Azria of BCBG/ Max Azria Group and Jene Park of Thomas Wylde (coming soon!). But more, every shoot is a great achievement in surrounding myself with inspirational women who can help to affect positivity and inspiration.
There are always challenges. Each time I shoot, I try and prepare as much as possible. And I love when I have the chance to be super creative and conceptual in the shoot direction. But there have been many that I have to walk into blindly where I must throw together backdrops, wardrobe, and image concepts on the spot due to the demanding schedules of my subjects. In these situations I have to rely on my social abilities to quickly assess the person and help them get comfortable, while relying on my technical abilities to assess the best light and setting per each image I will create.
Which is the best way to approach and encourage young people to photography?
Photography and art in general are such amazing tools to tap into and get to know yourself, others, and the world around you. Traveling is one of my favorite passions. And it is through the lens of the camera that I am able to capture a glimpse of all my experiences and memories. The camera is a means to connect with others, a way to start a conversation. Taking someone's picture is an honor, as you are literally stopping time to capture a moment in their life. This can be powerful on so many levels. You have to be focused and present to make each image most authentic and creative.
For young people getting into any discipline, my advice is to just go for it! Be honest about where you are, what you need. Listen to your heart. Study. Ask the best people for the best advice. And then, GO for it. I never stopped to say "What if?". I just went for it, I liken it to jumping off a bridge. I made so many mistakes along the way, but I was honest about them and learned from them. These failures gave me the strength and motivation to strive to be better and work harder.
Photo by Jess Epstein
How do you divide your time among family, business and The Project for Women?
I was given the greatest gift falling so hard in love with my profession and work. I don't know how to separate myself from what I create- we are one in the same. Which can sometimes make it hard when I am trying to separate myself from my work to be with my family. But I believe that my art and my passion influence my husband and my daughter in the best ways and they empower me to be a very unique person in their lives. This said, it is very important for me to let go of my work when "work" time is over and be present with my family when its "family" time. So if I have to lock my cell phone in my office downstairs, I will. Other than that, I am fortunate my daughter is following (a bit) in my footsteps developing a love for music, dance, and acting. And so when our worlds can collide, she appreciates more and more what I do.
Photo by Andrea Posadas
How many women do you want to feature at The Project for Women?
I hope this ride never stops. I plan to travel to many cities and countries over the next year to expand the horizons of this project and give a voice to women everywhere.
What is a 'normal' day in the life of Lauri Levenfeld?
If you were a fly on the wall, I would make you very dizzy! I am doing a 100 tasks at one time, every minute. But isn't every mom or woman.
Honestly, my eyes do not open until I have my ridiculously long -winded drink order at Starbucks (My daughter has now been trained- "She will have a Grande Half-Caff Soy Latte, No Foam, 190 degrees), but I have done so many things before I do. I wake to 5-20m (on a good day) of meditation, take the pup out, feed the "Kids" (Harley & pup PJ), drop offs at school at 8am, race to shoot all day or plan for the next shoot, call stylist, makeup, work on pulls for clothing, research potential women to cover, pinterest boards, interviews and phone calls, write my stories, and edit the photos, and race back to pick up my daughter Harley at 5pm. The rest of the night until my daughter's bedtime I try and devote to my family. Then if it's a productive day I hang with my hubby, or I am back on the computer to do more. I usually fall asleep around 11pm, sometimes with a cell phone in hand.
Would you describe yourself as a spiritual person? If so can you share with us one of your more profound spiritual experiences?
Over the last five years, I have really opened myself up to the beauty of meditation and journeying. It's been a great gift to stop myself and be more present. Even on the days that I am buried in tasks, I try to start my day with a five minute mediation to help quiet the mind and get grounded. This quick gift to myself carries with me throughout my day and I find myself more engaged, more efficient and happier in life. I have had many profound experiences, most through my journeys. Maybe I will save those for a future book.
Photo by Jess Epstein
How would you like to be remembered?
As a woman dedicated to her passions, and to the story and passions of others. As a great wife to an adoring and loving man. And as a present, inspired, and dedicated mom to the sweetest, coolest 6-year old around (well in my eyes!).
Are you satisfied with all of your achievements until now? When are you happiest?
I feel very blessed that I have a job that I absolutely love. That I wake in the morning energized and excited to carry out the day's tasks and to work my magic with my camera.
This makes me happy. But I am most happy when I put down my camera, lock my cell phone in the office (really I do!), and spend a non-interrupted day with my family.
Lauri Levenfeld by Jessica Epstein
What is your greatest hope for the future?
For my future... that everyone I love is healthy and happy. And for the future of the world, that "we" as a whole become more mindful, caring and protective of one another. That we create a world that is safe for everyone to celebrate and be their authentic selves.
What is next for Lauri Levenfeld? Do you desire to write a memoir?
A book is definitely in the future for TPFW! But focusing on the women and community we have built vs. a memoir. I am excited to keep up this journey, to learn and grow with this process, and to build on each and every shoot creating something unique and better than the last. In February 2016 we launched the Black Swans, bringing the women of the TPFW community together in unique, unpredictable ways for the ultimate networking events to experience one another live and have a little fun! It is my goal to present opportunities for real life encounters and friendship building off the computer where people can be more honest and authentic about their lives, and I have got to get this puppy on my lap a bit more crate-trained, so I can escape more often to the gym!