Foreword for 'ZEBRATO' book (Dewi Lewis Publishing UK)
– ABOUT THE PROJECT
Now considered a popular classic and still available in its 3rd printing, ZEBRATO – a collection of minimalist black and white photographs by award-winning fine art photographer Michael Levin – started off tentatively with hopes and prayers. Published in London by Dewi Lewis Publishers UK, it was an honour to be asked to contribute the Foreword essay to give both a curatorial and emotional reading of Levin’s sublime photographs. Levin’s monograph has been widely featured and was awarded a top prize at the International Photography Awards in the Fine Art Book category. In putting together the introduction, it was a pleasure to listen to MIchael talk about what his photographs mean to him as both a lived experience and as a creative composition.
“Like most harbours, Port Townsend’s waterfront is cluttered with boats and buildings and seafaring debris. It’s ramshackle and nothing in particular stands out. Which is to say that I walked right by the low concrete pier that is ‘Jetty’. Even knowing the photograph, I still missed seeing the scene. To my eyes, from my vantage point, with my careless gaze – I did not see what Levin saw. His revelation of commonplace subjects – things that I might not notice had his camera not demonstrated their value – became my entry point for a more thoughtful appreciation of Levin’s work. He makes a heartfelt appeal for the significance of the ordinary moment.”
– Barry Dumka
Foreword for 'ZEBRATO'
According to Levin, “there is no agenda” in his photographs. Still, there are influences, personal biases and a ranging curiousity that mark his images. The agenda that he waves away is the burden that black and white photography, indeed photography as a whole, carries with it always. The expecation to tell a truth and to link that truth to a larger whole. The photograph as document or drama, or both at once, is a compelling concern for many photographers. Cartier-Bresson said that his aim was “to preserve life in the act of living” while Ansel Adams saw his photographs as a means toward ecological preservation. Agendas abound.
Michael Levin is more guarded when discussing his work. He allows that he has an interest in things ‘that are not obvious’ and places that go ‘unnoticed’. The photographs themselves rise above his modesty. Scenes gain weight, even emotional power, as they move through his lens. In his early work – shot mostly around the Pacific Northwest with water, water everywhere – Levin leads the viewer to consider the value and form of wooden pilings, ferry docks and steel pipelines. In Posts and Shadows, weathered stumps from a once thriving riverfront cannery now stand like sentinels warning of time’s cruel passage. The objects become less about their own specificity than what Levin makes of them. Despite their exacting clarity, these subjects are loosened from their quotidian values to better serve Levin’s goal.
It is interesting to note that Steel Pier is the structural underbelly of America’s famed Atlantic City Pier – the thick concrete posts holding up all these cheap and passing fancies. All that weight for nothing. Levin makes something more of the scene, turning the accordion-like scroll of the posts (akin to the structure of a large-format camera) into a telescopic portal out toward infinity.
There is always something more going on in Michael Levin’s photographs than you first consider.
— (end of excerpt)
© Barry Dumka/BCREATIVE CONSULTING
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