David Levinthal:
Hitler Moves East


January 11 – April 17, 2015

While a graduate student at Yale University in the 1970s, American photographer David Levinthal discovered the powerful potential of a curious subject: toys. Captured in tight, zoomed-in shots, the conventional figurines spring to life in his intricate, carefully balanced tableaus


Levinthal’s first major project, Hitler Moves East, employed toy soldiers and meticulously constructed sets to stage the tragic 1941-3 trek made by Hitler’s sixth army’s troops into the former Soviet Union. In 1977 the resulting sepia-toned, photo-journalism-esque images were published in a book of the same name, which introduced the photographer’s distinct, emotive style. The volume’s success encouraged Levinthal to further develop his toy-centric vision and devote his life to the craft; his work has since been exhibited in leading institutions and galleries around the world. 

Nine images from the series were selected by the artist for the Mana exhibition Hitler Moves East, presented in the building’s second floor gallery. This will be the first of three consecutive exhibitions the artist will present at Mana. Originally taken in 1975 and reprinted in 2012, the oversized, limited edition works provide an intimate glimpse into Levinthal’s early experimentation with object-driven narrative photography. 

A defining factor in Levinthal’s approach to image-making is his rejection the documentary-style photography of the 1960s and embrace of a more playful, synthetic relationship with history and culture. The photographer’s preference for hobby-shop figurines (in lieu of human subjects) allows him to brazenly address difficult themes like war, racism, sex, and political strife. Yet his signature close-up, depth-constricted shots give his strategically arranged toys an uncanny sense of life, complicating the boundary between real and make-believe. Mana’s Hitler Moves East attests to the intentional ambiguity that has long permeated Levinthal’s work, prompting questions about truth, credibility, and perception.



Press Release

Courtesy of the artist