Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Michael Levin

Michael is one of the photographers who will be represented in my next book and he happened to be in town to open a new show of his work this last weekend so I attended, and we had a good chance to chat. I have written about Michael's work before but know a bit more about him.

Michael was a restaurant owner before becoming a photographer. He has no arts training whatsoever and only started photographing some six years ago. Rather than do like so many of us and read all the technical stuff he could get hold of, he flew to California and checked out all the galleries and found out what good photographs look like, particularly the work of Michael Kenna. He then found out what these people photograph with and purchased the same equipment (medium and large format up to 8X10 cameras). He never experimented, he didn't read lens reviews, didn't experiment with dozens of developers. He put all his effort into his seeing and worked single mindedly until he too could produce those luminous tones that represent the finest printing. He hasn't changed his techniques since, still working with film. He has however, taken advantage of modern inkjet printers to produce large print (why wouldn't he, he was shooting with 8X10 after all). He wouldn't mind a medium format digital back, but can't afford one (typical of most fine art photographers).

So many of us get distracted by the inadequacies (assumed or real) of our equipment and this detracts from our efforts to make better photographs. So many of us older geezers wanted to be Ansel Adams but refused to use large format and spent way too much money and time trying to squeese large format quality out of small format cameras. Some of you will remember using special copy films and tricky soups, which produced sharp results of lousy pictures.

Michael did it the right way. He found something he wanted to say, found great photographers who knew how to say similar (but not identical) things and made the intelligent assumption that using their methods was the way to go. Questions of convenience and cost didn't enter into it. When you think of how much some of us spent on the wrong films, wrong cameras, wrong developers and bad prints, we could easily have afforded decent equipment. Besides, there are always ways to do things cheaply - it just isn't sexy to do so. Some of my best images have been shot with a 10D - you probably couldn't give one away these days - only six megapixels - useless, well, not really...

Food for thought.

Check out Michael's work and if you ever get the chance to view his prints...

By the way, he recently had an offer of an inexpensive print, funds to be donated to Haiti relief - I placed my order.

He has a book out, which is currently out of print but is soon to be reprinted. The quality is good and I'm going to get one.

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