Photographer of the Month – Michael Levin
Darwin: Congratulations on a fine looking website. I love the elegant, classic and simple design which really accents you spacious and experiential photography. Did you design your website, or did you use a customized template or hire a designer?
Michael: Thank you, I worked closely with a designer and programmer on the site. I had a number of ideas that I wanted incorporated into the site and it was suggested to me that I start from ground up. It’s still a work in progress with some interesting interactive elements being added soon, including a zoom feature to see the detail. I think the majority of people that view my work see it on the web and I wanted the viewer to have a more personal experience. I’ve included outtakes and videos of some of my better known images and I think this helps better connect with my audience . What I’m most proud of is the newest video “Ki” that Brad Kremer shot while we were in Japan earlier this year. I think he did a fantastic job and we’re working together on other projects now.
Darwin: You are also a talented musician. I know several other photographers who are musicians and each one of them has a simplicity and ethereal feel to their work. What is it about being trained at music that leads photographers to be more personally expressionistic and less documentary?
Michael: “Talented” is a little to generous! I was always interested in rhythm guitar and that’s what initially attracted me to the flamenco guitar. It was the subtleties and dynamic qualities of the music that helped inform me on how to approach photography. When I first picked up the camera in 2003 I realized that capturing simple and sparse imagery would not be as easy as it looked, it would require a commitment to evoke that same feeling that I enjoyed with music. Just as in music you practice all the time to pull off the one great performance and photography would be the same. Using long exposures also helps transform a scene from the literal into something more and this opens the image up for a more personal expression.
Darwin: Many fine art photographers seem to gravitate to shooting themes or projects yet you cover a variety of topics yet still keep the ‘look’ or ‘style’ of your work consistent. It seems that you work is more about what you feel and less about the subject. Is this ability to capture your emotions the key to developing personal style?
Michael: That’s completely what photography is about for me: being in a given space and capturing the emotion of the scene. Of course I don’t think this way when I’m out shooting, I’m just enjoying the places I visit. I think my images may have a similar look because of the effects of long exposures and I gravitate towards “clean spaces”. It seems my eye just extracts these elements from the scene and as I continue to practice I’m able to find it in more diverse locations.
Darwin: Water, sky and earth feature prominently in your work. Often these elements are simple graphical elements that are reduced to mere line and form. How do you reduce the busy, chaotic real world into such pure forms of expression?
Michael: Photography is a great way to see a country and I prefer the smaller villages and quiet moments, it’s here where I think my best images come from. Setting up a large format camera requires that you slow down and really consider the scene and I tend to have the most clarity at this point. Having grown up on the Prairies I have an affinity for open spaces and that idea of space has always played a role in my images. The challenge is making a singular object balance with the sky and water and it happens much less than I’d like.
Darwin: Of course because photographers are so tool-centric, we all want to know what your ‘brushes’ of choice are; what camera and medium do you use to create your work?
Michael: My camera gear has really been all over the place these last couple of years. I started out with medium format and then moved to 4×5 and 8×10. I scan everything on a Imacon 848 scanner and have the 8×10 negs drummed scanned. At the beginning of 2011 I finally went digital with the Hasselblad H4D. I do all my printing in my studio on the Epson 11880 and primarily use Epson/Hahnemuhle papers.
To see more of Michael Levin’s work, please visit his website. In October, Michael is teaching a “Art of Black and White Landscape” Master Series Workshop in Victoria, BC. There are still a few spots left!