Michael Levin in the spotlight

Joel Tjintjelaar

This new series in which I will feature a photographer who has contributed to art in general and photography in particular, will start with a photographer who has largely influenced my style of photography and my vision on it: Award winning photographer Michael Levin who has won major International prizes for his outstanding art and who will soon be among the most imitated and influential photographers of this decade and the decades to come.

My love for B&W photography, as for most of us involved in photography, started with the famous images of the great photographers of the past century like Cartier-Bresson, Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus and especially Ansel Adams. And although I loved and admired Adams’ landscape photography a lot and still do, it wasn’t until I saw the strange, surrealistic long exposure work of Michael Kenna and Michael Levin that I really wanted to go out and shoot these type of photos myself. That was something I could relate to: a world that was this world but not visible to the human eye, but only to the camera and the perceptive imagination of the artist that presented it to us. A monochrome world that was otherworldly and visualizes in one single image the essence of Zen where a thousand words could not.

Michael Levin’s work embodies monochrome long exposure work at its very best. Using a Large Format 4×5 Linhof Master Technika 2000 technical camera, which is also the camera of choice of other great landscape photographers, he captures the world around us in a way that reduces the world to its true beauty: a world of basic lines, contrasts and light or the absence of it. A world of layers of time upon time, packed in one single image and revealing to the eye what is really left to stay and to admire: the glorious and harmonious movement of clouds in Zebrato, the smooth and milky water in Code, the shapes and structure of the Confederation Bridge or the delicate patterns of white against black in Atsumi Nets.

His preferred environment is the sea and sky, his subjects are often quite ordinary but he elevates it to an object of eternal and intrinsic beauty by removing all distracting elements. To obtain that effect, Michael Levin exposes his subjects to long shutter speeds using ND filters with exposure times varying from 2 to 10 minutes. Preferably in poor light conditions to enable even longer shutter times and create an ethereal look and feel in his photos.

Like other great landscape photographers Michael Levin has this passionate urge to strive for the ultimate photo and to return to the same location and subject over and over again. It’s not just a matter of taking a shot and execute it in a technically perfect way. It’s often a matter of the ideal weather conditions, the ideal light, the ideal movement and pattern of layers of clouds all coming together in that single moment of time in a particular place, where it meets the eye and the state of mind of the photographer who wasn’t there by accident. But by meticulous preparation and passionate dedication. Artist, equipment and landscape will become one and what we’ll see as a final result is the world as Michael Levin wanted it to be. A world of perfect shades of black and white and subtle gradients of grey in between to emphasize the minimalistic shapes and patterns and isolate it from its environment.

When I go out shooting on a new location I always search the Internet first, looking for photos of locations or scenes that might be useful for my own long exposure shots and if I find anything interesting I’d do some further investigation before really travelling off to that location. I asked Mr. Levin if he had a similar approach to this, this is what he replied to me:

“I have a different approach to finding the images. I wouldn’t exactly call all the locations “beautiful”, on their own they are quite ordinary. That is wherein the challenge lies: to extract something more of a given scene than what actually exists. I naturally gravitate towards visual order and symmetry  and it’s when I find these elements that I will take a picture, or many. These images could be found in the chaos of a bottle recycling plant (Stacked Pallets) or on a quiet remote beach (Pyramid Rock), very random. For me, the value of photography is about the experience  of a given place. I attempt to make visual sense of what is before me while considering  the emotions that are swirling around my head at that particular time. Once and awhile these factors collide and one of the negatives actually records my experience and I’m satisfied with the results, but rarely. Lately, for inspiration I look to the work of photographers like Burtynsky, Schenck or Watanabe. These photographers have an amazing ability  to make the ordinary extraordinary. I’m trying to find my  own voice for my work and these photographers remind me that “beauty” is all around us,  in the most obvious places just waiting to be discovered by our cameras.

I think that should explain how I find these places. Keep in mind it’s also coupled with a lot of driving. Also, there are thousands of negatives behind my portfolio (about 6o images) that will never be seen by anyone.”

Please have a look at his website www.michaellevin.ca to witness the beauty of his work yourself and see why his work has become so influential for my photography and that of many other B&W photographers. And many thanks to Mr. Michael Levin for unselfishly providing me with all the information I needed and the photos posted here. Not only is he a great photographer but a kindhearted human being too. A truly wonderful combination.

Joel Tjintjelaar.

22 replies
  1. carl
    carl says:

    Micheal Levin’s work is indeed very visually pleasing, his craft is well calculated, the photos are excellently visualized, however I find them empty of story. I fear many photographers will imitate this kind of work.

    Reply
  2. Marc Manley
    Marc Manley says:

    The images here are a breath of fresh air. I only wish I were able to still make such images. The new world of digital photography killed my personal interest in the craft. How I long for a 4×5 and the dark room! Inspirational to say the least. Please continue this very excellent work.

    Reply
  3. Steve
    Steve says:

    Good article Joel! I never saw Michael Levin’s work before and it is very nice to see it here with this great article. It inspire me a lot! Look forward to the next article!

    Reply
  4. Philipp Niemeier
    Philipp Niemeier says:

    Very interesting article Joel. I can definitely relate to what Levin says about recording ones experience with a photo and the satisfaction of it.

    Reply
  5. Pete
    Pete says:

    As your newest follower I am so happy to have discovered this blog. Congratulations on a wonderful and informative site for the craft we all share in. I am a bit of a free thinker so “anything goes” is my approach to photography. I consider myself not great in any one thing but good to almost there in alot of things. And people say I talk too much… anyways great article here.

    Congratulations and looking forward to exploration and discovery here.

    Cheers

    Reply
  6. Vlad
    Vlad says:

    Nice article, Joel!

    It’s difficult do not to disagree with “I wouldn’t exactly call all the locations “beautiful””. We all are looking for an own way to extract beauty from the ordinary subjects and places. And than trying to follow this way.

    It so coincides with my approach, I also do not like to show the rows, even to my wife.
    “Also, there are thousands of negatives behind my portfolio (about 6o images) that will never be seen by anyone.”

    Thanks!

    Reply
  7. Ger McGrath
    Ger McGrath says:

    Great article, Joel! Like Jo, I never saw Michael Levin’s work before, but I can see now how it must have inspired your great work.

    Reply
  8. Lieve.db
    Lieve.db says:

    Brilliant article Joel! Great to read about your passion for photography and your admiration for Mr Levin, as an artist and a person! Very inspiring !

    Reply
  9. Nathan Wirth
    Nathan Wirth says:

    Wonderful article, Joel. Very interesting to read your personal observations about his influence on your work– and then to hear his views about he approaches his work. Thanks for a great article and website.

    Reply
  10. Jeff Gaydash
    Jeff Gaydash says:

    Michael is truly an inspirational photographer. I am always interested in how individuals approach their image making and the process one takes in finding spectacular images that are everywhere around us. Thanks for the great article Joel.

    Reply
  11. p i c a
    p i c a says:

    Hey, Joel, congratulations on launching this new series, and on doing so with my all-time favourite photographer! A very interesting read, indeed!

    🙂

    Reply

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  1. […] photography is so inspirational and what he had to go through to achieve his images is amazing.Michael Levin: His work is always inspirational, the creative use of light and smoothness in his images is second […]

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