Wayne Levin: Featured Artist
A Photographic Exhibit
I feel that the Ocean is an entity of incredible power and every time I enter it, I have a clear understanding that I am placing myself inside a world that is far more powerful and vast than I can ever be. It is only by its grace that I return. When I descend beneath the surface, I feel that I am Alice passing through the looking glass into a totally different world. Or am I Cocteau’s Orpheus passing through the mirror into the underworld? When I descend beneath the surface I am in a world with different rules, different truths. Things look different, light acts differently, gravity pulls differently. One can fly, or at least float over the landscape, the seascape. When I descend into this wonderland, I want to make images, not to explain or clarify that world, but to deepen the mystery.
Wayne Levin: Interviewed by Sharon Passmore
Wayne Levin is an award-winning photographer and world traveler whose underwater images immerse us in the wondrous, liquid space of the oceans. Wayne’s subject, aside from the many creatures inhabiting the water, is the water itself, its currents and clouds, its weight, its very presence. Recently, I had an opportunity to interview Wayne via webcam, and he shared his insights about photography, his journey, and the environment. You can find out more about Wayne at his website.
SP: When you got your first camera as a child, what did you first point it at?
WL: Oh, that’s interesting. My earliest memory is taking a trip to Mexico, and there were cemeteries with all these different pastel grave markers. I have a clear memory of photographing that. It was probably not the first thing I photographed, but it’s my oldest memory of photographing. Another quite early memory is in the car, looking through the camera, viewing the world as it went by through a rectangle—the rectangle of the viewfinder.
SP: Maybe that had some influence on your mirror series.
WL: Yes, it might have, and when I was young I loved train trips, I loved going on trains and looking at the scenery through the window of the train. Looking at the world through the camera’s viewfinder sort of emulates that.
SP: And all the reflections?
WL: They were very important to me. Back when I was in art school in the late 1970s, I went to the San Francisco Art Institute and I published a student book called Preservations. At that point, I was photographing window displays and exhibits in museums. What I did in Other Oceans was take some of those earlier ideas about the way society is presented to us, through windows and through displays, and also the idea of the way they get reflected, and the multiple reflections, and I took those ideas that I’d used maybe twenty years before and juxtaposed them with the idea of the ocean. It was bringing an old idea back, but with the ocean as the subject matter.
SP: Did you feel constrained shooting into an aquarium through the glass?
WL: No, it was a fun experience. I enjoyed that. I guess I enjoyed that separation of being in another world, looking through the glass at this artificial world that was presented to me. I found that pretty interesting, I didn’t feel separated from it. It was an intellectual exercise. I thought: the ocean is dying; we’re preserving it in this artificial form. I felt that was tragic, and I wanted to make a statement about that.
SP: I notice that some of your early work has a similar sense of ambiguity and a similar sense of groups of things massed into one, especially in the Preservations work, somewhat foreshadowing your underwater work. When you first started shooting underwater, did you get a feeling of finding something you had always been searching for?
WL: In a way, yes. I’d always loved being in the water, and looking at the ocean. I’d played a bit with underwater photography before, but wasn’t able to get results I was happy with. I really got into it when I decided to photograph surfers underwater. When I started doing that kind of photography, there was something of a coming home or bringing two parts of me together, the ocean and photography.
SP: Do you free dive or scuba dive?
WL: I do both. As I get older it’s probably more scuba and less free diving, but I was out in the deep water a few days ago, free diving with sharks. I still do it.
SP: When free diving, how fast do you have to work?
WL: You have to work fairly fast. You don’t necessarily move fast but . . ..