Interview with Michael Levin
#1 Please introduce yourself:
My name is Michael Levin and I’m a fine art photographer living in Vancouver, Canada.
#2 How did you get interested in photography?
I was a rather late starter and didn’t pick up a camera until I was about 34 years old. I became fascinated with the possibilities of digital so I started exploring my surroundings which at the time was the Canadian Prairies. At the time I was interested in shooting the fields and big sky with the divisional line of the horizon as the focal point. The subtle shift in colours over a season seemed to be of infinite fascination for me and I had endless amounts of energy in trying to capture that. I think I’ve always had an appreciation for minimalism in art and I’ve always tried to achieve that with my work from the start.
#3 Do you have an artistic/photographic background?
I have a background in music and I believe that has informed my photography in many ways. I studied flamenco guitar very diligently for a number of years and I think it gave me a foundation for understanding that simplicity (whether in music or art) does not come easily. In music I was always trying to perfect the technical aspects of my guitar playing and that required countless hours of dedicated effort of very repetitive motions. So, when it came to photography I implemented that work ethic and applied it to the pursuit of capturing the perfect image, whatever that might b be. It seemed to make logical sense to me that any image I would produce and be proud of would require a lot of hard work and I was perfectly fine putting the time in. To this day I feel the same way about my work and the images all still very difficult to find, but that journey is exhilarating.
#4 Which artist/photographer inspired your art?
Currently I’m inspired by the work of a number of artists like Edward Burtynsky and Uta Barth. With Burtynsky’s work he has the ability to make visual order out of some complex scenes and subject matter. I’ve tried to incorporate that visual idea into my own process and it’s allowed me to expand the range of my curiosity. Uta Barth is just simply fantastic and some of her prosaic imagery is elevated into the sublime for me. At first glance her compositions can be challenging, but after some contemplation they seem to fall into order for me. I like the idea of having a connection to a photograph that you can’t quite figure out at first but then it slowly reveals itself to you. Rocky Schenck’s work is a perfect example of that idea.
#5 How much preparation do you put into taking a photograph? Are you planning every step or is it always spontaneous?
I wouldn’t say I prepare for a photograph, as all of my images are found by chance. I don’t use maps and I never have a destination planned as that’s truly what photography is about for me: the freedom to travel at will. What interests me the most is travelling the less common route where you can come closest to the unexpected. Once I find a scene that is compelling then I become very methodical about my approach to capturing the image.
#6 Some of your works have a really minimalist feeling, is there any symbolism in it?
Symbolism? not for me, that might be the viewers interpretation but I don’t approach my work that way. It’s about visually deconstructing a scene so that it fits my natural inclination towards minimalism. I tend to anchor my imagery with strong lines whether it be the horizon or the leading edge of white paint on the road. My photography is simply about my experience in a given place – nothing more than that.
#7 We can see your photographs only in black and white, why have you chosen to present them in this form?
Black and white allows certain liberties in skewing the truth of a scene that would look unreal if they were in colour. I like the expressive possibilities that a B&W print can present and I don’t feel that I’d be compelled to do these types of images in colour.
#8 Could you please tell us something about your technique and creating process?
I started out with a digital camera in 2003 but soon switched to film because of the quality at the time. Up until Jan 2011 I shot only medium and large format film usually Kodak T-Max. I then scanned everything on a Imacon hi res scanner and worked on the files in Photoshop. In January 2011 I started using a Hasselblad H4D and have been really impressed with the results. I do all my own printing in my studio on the Epson 11880 (for the really large prints ) and the Epson 9900 for the majority of my work. I primarily use Epson papers but have been trying out some of the new Baryta papers from Hahanamule which are quite nice.
#9 Could you tell our readers how to reach such excellent results in photography?
Hmm, that’s a tough question. It’s a challenge looking at the obvious and trying to make something more of the scene. My advice is this: don’t settle for second best, only show the work that you have complete confidence in. I live with my photographs on the wall for weeks and sometimes months before I release them as I need to be 100% sure they are the best I can do.
#10 What do you do in your life besides photography?
I keep myself really busy with printing and dealing with all my galleries. I enjoy riding my bike and practicing flamenco/classical guitar.
#11 What future plans do you have? What projects would you like to accomplish?
I’ve just announced a workshop I’ll be conducting in Brighton this September 2011 and I’m looking forward to that. I was the subject of a documentary that just finished shooting and it will be aired on North American TV this Fall. Film maker Brad Kremer and I have just released a video on Vimeo that I think is truly unique (www.vimeo.com/24665710) and I’m really pleased with it. Going forward I have some interesting trips planned this Fall in Europe.
Michael Levin Official Website: