I first met Michael Levin in 2008 while attending my first Fotofest. Michael was visiting Houston to attend the opening of his solo exhibition at Watermark Gallery, which represented both of us at the time. After getting to know Michael, I wrote a feature about him for Black & White Photography Magazine (UK) which also earned him the cover.
I thought it would be great to have a chat on Underexposed with Michael in honor of the opening of his exhibition Continuum at Photo Eye this Friday December 16th from 5-7pm. So here’s an excerpt from a chat we had this past week.
SUSAN BURNSTINE: What were your beginnings as a photographer and when did you realize it would become your chosen form of expression?
Michael Levin: I first picked up a camera in the summer of 2003 and it was at this point my focus shifted from classical guitar to photography. Until then I had spent 20 years diligently studying Flamenco and Classical guitar as a passionate hobby. Once I realized the possibilities of photography I was hooked and decided to commit to understanding the art form full time. Within a year of shooting I had a small portfolio of work that I started showing and this led to a number of galleries representing me. It happened quite quickly and it just seemed like everything aligned in just the right way…. with a lot of work.
SB: Is there a particular element or aspect of long exposure work that continues to drive you to make photographs?
ML: The aspect of long exposure work that most interests me is the idea of the extended experience captured on a single negative. All the subtle shifts in the sky and water impress on the film over time and the results are never predictable. I also think long exposures elevate the literal translation of a scene into something more and unexpected. During the time that I’ve fired the shutter I have an elevated sense of awareness as I’m trying to anticipate the outcome of what will be impressed on the negative. It seems to me that long exposures have a way of capturing emotions in a given scene that appeal to my senses.
SB: For years you were shooting with 4x5 film cameras, but you recently made the switch to digital. Can you talk a bit about the transition?
ML: Initially I was a little reluctant to even consider the possibility of shooting digital. I started in 2003 with a Canon D60 and within 6 months I had abandoned it for film. Since 2003 I’ve never had the inclination to explore the advances in digital camera technology. In January 2011, a Hasselblad dealer sent me one of their new H4D cameras to try out for a couple of weeks. I did some tests and I was simply amazed at the quality of the files that rivaled my 4x5 negs and surpassed my Hasselblad film negs. Since I travel overseas a considerable amount I always have to deal with the challenges of film and x-ray, which I no longer have. There are a number of other beneficial factors that working with digital has provided for me.
SB: Your first book, Zebrato, earned a multitude of awards (IPA and PX3) and was a tremendous seller. Do you have plans to do another book in the future?
ML: I was very fortunate with the book Zebrato, as it seemed to resonate with quite a large audience. I think there were a number of factors that contributed to its success and I can only hope that my next book does as well. I’m just putting the finishing touches on the new book and we’re looking at a release in late 2012.
SB: Can you discuss the collection of images that will be displayed in your exhibition at Photo Eye Gallery?
ML: The images in the show are a mixture of new and old. I tend to let negatives sit around and “mature” for a few years before I’m able to see their potential. In this show there are “new” old images in the sense that I shot them in 06/07 but am just getting around to printing them in 2011. Initially something pulled me to the water’s edge and this is where the majority of my images were shot. In more recent years that stage has expanded as I find my curiosity is taking me in different areas. For the past couple of years my images have taken on a more contrasty, graphic look, bold structures and industrial sites. These new images are balanced between some of my older images and will be exhibited at Photo- Eye.
SB: What are you working on now?
ML: For the past 6 months I’ve been working on a completely new body of work that I’m still developing conceptually. The use of the digital camera has enabled me to see the results immediately and this had lead me in a new direction, in terms of possibilities that I didn’t have with film.
In August I traveled to Berlin to photograph and explore the urban environment. While I was there the ideal changed into something else and became another project which is now my central focus. It actually started with one image that gave me a visual direction and a narrative to follow. Going forward these new ideas will take me through China, France and South America over the next 10 months.
Several months ago filmmaker Brad Kremer traveled to Japan to film me for a project that I was working on which also turned into something more. He released a short video on Vimeo http://vimeo.com/24665710 several months ago and we’re now going to expand on this idea and make it a much larger project. So, there are a number of interesting things to look forward to in the near future.
Continuum will be on display from this Friday December 16th until February 4, 2012. For details and directions pop over to photo eye
Purchase Michael’s book Zebrato at photo eye bookstore
And to see more of Michael’s work pop over to his website