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Michael Levin on Continuum

Tempest, 2008 -- Michael Levin
Sitting in the gallery surrounded by Michael Levin’s photographs, I feel a sense of calm. Though the images are still frames I perceive a sense of movement. There is something about Levin’s images that inspire a sense of “being” in the moment – and it is a peaceful and pleasant moment. After speaking with Levin and discovering a little more about the work I learned that when he sets out to photograph he is not seeking a specific location – rather he is on a journey and is waiting for a place or moment to speak to him. -- Anne Kelly


Anne Kelly:   Prior to discovering you love of photography spent years learning to play flamenco guitar. Do you feel that your knowledge and love of music is translated visually in your photographs?

Michael Levin:   The short answer is yes. What initially attracted me to flamenco guitar was the repetitive rhythmic passages and I think that has found it’s way in to my work. Images like Atsumi Nets or Biwako could visually be compared to notes on a page. Of course I’m never consciously aware of this musical idea while I’m out shooting. Guitar playing has given me the understanding that in order to achieve effortless technique it requires significant dedication and practice. I approach my photography with these same principles
Biwako, 2006 -- Michael Levin
AK:   Most of your images are long exposures. Can you talk a little bit about your reason for that – and how do you decide how long to make the exposure?

ML:   It’s been so long now that I’ve been shooting long exposures that I don’t think about it anymore. It’s really just a technique that allows me to create the look of the image. I like the unexpected aspect of capturing time on a single frame, so many possibilities. You can’t predict all the subtle shifts of how light, clouds and water will impress upon the film. I have a general idea of how long I want to expose the film for but I try to mix it up all the time.

AK:   When looking at your work I always had the impression that your images involved a journey. Brad Kremer's atmospheric documentary about you and your work, KI, reaffirmed this in my mind. Can you talk a little more about that?

ML:   From the start my images have never been about documenting a place but rather capturing the emotion of a place. These images are few and far between so it always involves a great dealing of driving and observing. My experience with photography really revolves around this journey and exploring unknown destinations. Brad’s idea was to simply document me at work and I think he did a great job of capturing the spontaneity of the whole experience. Brad and I are pursuing this idea to a new level and I'm looking forward to seeing the results in the near future.

photograph of Michael Levin - courtesy of Brad Kremer 2011
AK:   You have made a number of short films during the process of your long exposures. Can you tell us a little more about those short films?

ML:   Photography has given me the ability to travel the world and I’ve had a number of incredible experiences. From the start I never knew this would turn into a career so I decided to record these experiences so that I could relive them for years to come. It just turned out that I was able to continue to take photographs, so I just kept on recording. I had shown parts of the videos to some friends who suggested I post them and I did. I also recognized that the vast majority of people who view my work see it on my website. I thought the addition of videos would allow people to further connect to the work and see what it’s like behind the scenes.

AK:   Typically humans are not present in your images – however in Zebrato you walk out onto the dock during the exposure. What inspired you to do so?

Zebrato, 2005 and Rift, 2007 -- Michael Levin
ML:   I think I excluded people from my images for a couple of reasons. I typically find myself in out of the way places early in the morning and there just isn’t anyone around. The other reason is that with my style of composing I intentionally leave out visual cues as to the scale of the subject. This frees the viewer from recognizing exactly what they’re looking at, the unknown.

The lone “pescatore” on the end of the dock is in fact not me, he’s a fisherman catching dinner at the day’s end. My intention with that composition was to not have him or anyone in the shot. I spent two days shooting that image in hopes that I would have a clear view of the pier, but things worked out differently and the photograph turned out to become my most recognizable in my portfolio.

AK:   What is next?

ML:   Last summer I traveled to Berlin to start a new project. I had a loose idea of what I wanted to achieve however as always there is the unexpected. In the hotel one night while I was reviewing the day’s work I saw an image that really had something interesting to say and this gave me a clearer direction fresh. Generally, the new work explores urban environments and leisure. I know it’s kind of vague but I’m excited by the possibilities.

See more work by Michael Levin here
See Michael Levin's book Zebrato and the limited editions here

For more information, please contact photo-eye Gallery Associate Director Anne Kelly by email or by calling the gallery at (505) 988-5152 x202