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Ivan Dmitri (or Dmitre) (1900 – 1968), born Levon West, was an American photographic artist. Born in Centerville, South Dakota, his father was a Congregational minister who immigrated from Armenia. The family changed their name to West when Levon and his brothers did not want to enlist in the service during World War I under their Armenian last name, Assadoorian. The name West was chosen as it was the maiden name of Levon's mother. Levon West adopted the pen name of Ivan Dmitri to use for his color photography. His etchings and watercolors were always done under his original name, Levon West.
Levon West moved often as a boy, as his father preached in a series of North Dakota towns. His father was pastor at the Congregational Church in Glen Ullin from 1914 to 1918, when the family moved to Harvey. West graduated from high school in Harvey as valedictorian, and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1924. He wanted to take almost entirely art courses but his father insisted that he major in business administration.
While in New York studying at the Art Students’ League, he formed an aviation corporation with friends. They serviced planes at Roosevelt Field on Long Island. One day he noticed a different type of plane and did sketches of it. This plane belonged to Charles Lindberg. When West heard Lindberg flew the Spirit of St. Louis on a record breaking trans-Atlantic flight, he hurriedly did an etching from his sketches and took it to the New York Times. The paper asked how much he wanted for it and he said, “I don’t care how much I get for it, but put my name on it good and big at the bottom.” When the newspaper came out with his etching on the front page demand for his work followed. He was contacted by the Kennedy Galleries in New York the following day. This led to a series of successful etchings and national prominence. He was also a skilled watercolorist.
When he began working with color photography, Levon West adopted the pen name "Ivan Dmitri," though he continued to use the name Levon West for his non-photographic works. 'Ivan Dmitri' was a pioneer in color photography, and wrote several books on the subject, his first being, "Color in Photography" in 1939.
The first color photographic cover on the Saturday Evening Post magazine (May 29, 1937)was by Dmitri, a photo of an Automobile racing driver seated in his race car. Another SEP cover, May 16, 1944, was a photo of General 'Hap' Arnold, with B-17's flying overhead, with a B-17 crew planning a flight. This cover was so popular that the United States used the photo image to print a very rare World War II (war effort) poster.
As Ivan Dmitri, he helped to gain acceptance for photography as an art medium, and established one of the first photography exhibits at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Dmitri felt that such a move was necessary in order for the public to treat photography as art, rather than just something reserved smaller mediums like books, magazines, and newspapers. In 1959, Ivan Dmitri founded Photography in the Fine Arts.
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