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Take 5 Interview
The Take 5 Interview series is a continuation of featuring selected pinhole artists from around the planet. Each artist is asked a set of five questions that will shed light on their persona, their portfolio, and their creative take on this intriguing art form called pinhole photography. All questions are derived by Brian J. Krummel and answered by the respective artist in their own words.

April 30th, 2010 : Edward Levinson

Edward Levinson is an American fine art and editorial photographer specializing in pinhole photography. Born in Richmond, Virginia, he has lived in Japan since 1979. His work is regularly exhibited in Japan, the U.S.A., and Europe and he has held more than 30 solo exhibitions. His pinhole and lens photographs appear in many Japanese books and magazines as well as in English publications about Japan. His pinhole photo book "Timescapes Japan" received First Prize Award in one of the book categories of the "Prix de la Photographie Paris 2007". His book "Edo's Lessons in Pinhole Photography - Photography for Slow Life" is published in Japanese by Iwanami Publishing. Levinson collaborates on many natural life books with his wife, essayist Shizuka Tsuruta. He conducts pinhole photography workshops and maintains a gallery of his work at his country home/studio in Kamogawa, Chiba Prefecture Japan.
When did you first get interested in pinhole photography and how long have you been practicing this art form? List any creative influences that have shaped your own personal style.

I was first introduced to pinhole photography around 1975 in a college photography course. I really liked the effect of the paper negatives and contact prints. But then we moved on to real cameras and f-stops and other technical stuff, which mostly confused me. I gave up photography for about 10 years, as it didn't seem to fit the simple lifestyle I was trying to live.

Edward Levinson
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Later in Japan I got back into it. In 1992 after completing three book projects in one year, I was burnt out on photography and didn't want to touch my 35mm and 6x7 lens cameras. I saw an article in Camera and Darkroom magazine about pinhole and remembered how much I enjoyed it in college. For a change of pace and some fresh creativity, I grabbed an old empty box and some aluminum pie plates to make pinholes. I quickly realized that the pinhole camera as a photographic tool suited my way of seeing. Soon after I visited Willie Anne Wright who showed me her 4x5 wooden pinhole camera. I saw her Civil War series and was fascinated by the mood she was capturing using pinhole. I also subscribed to the Pinhole Journal published by Eric Renner and Nancy Spencer, which opened my eyes to what could be done with pinhole cameras. Meeting Eric and Nancy and then John Sexton in workshops validated the work I was doing and encouraged me that it was possible to make fine art and editorial photographs using pinhole and good darkroom technique. I was already into doing what I called "Nature Meditations" photos with lens cameras. So my first pinhole series "Healing Landscapes" was a natural continuation of that. I am also a big fan of André Kertész, whose cityscapes and pastoral country scenes give me inspiration.

Copyright © 2010 Edward Levinson
Sky Writing
From the Healing Landscapes series: The sea at dusk near where I live
In your artist statement, you describe the Essence of Being. This is an intriguing philosophy that binds, dictates, and influences your work. You indicate that "...when I pay attention I know who and what I am". Please expand on this spiritual connection to your work.
A keyword for me as a photographer and person is "attunement". The phrase "Essence of Being" came to me when I was having a show that included work from various series. I was looking for something that tied all of them together. I had discovered that pinhole cameras best capture the essence of nature as I experience it. The rhythms of nature tune my soul and allow me to be in harmony with it. It is then that I find the images that awaken my emotions and feelings, which I hope the viewer of the photos will experience in their own way. Similarly, I have always been fascinated with the mood and energy I feel at Japanese temples, shrines, and other sacred places. I believe it is their openness and closeness to nature that excites my spirit. Sometimes it is a visual attraction. Sometimes it is the smell and sounds. Visiting and photographing these kind of places refreshes my personal spiritual vision.

Copyright © 2010 Edward Levinson

Essence of Being
I made this image using a 6x8 inch paper negative in a camera I made from an old Japanese medicine box. This was the very first shot taken with the camera. The exposure was 4 minutes so I guess my attunement was pretty good that day.

The Cityscapes series is an extension of my interest in people watching and photojournalism. The long exposures allow me to observe people and places as they interact with the flow of time. Being in the moment, I somehow slip into their space and share their experience. For me, all three of these series, as well as my other new work, communicate oneness, which is a very important ideal for me and is the source of "Essence of Being." (All my artist's statements can be found on the Writings section of my homepage.)

Copyright © 2010 Edward Levinson
Facing the Light
From the Sacred Japan series: The light was so inviting, after I opened the shutter I decided to go sit in it.
What creative tools and techniques do you use, such as any specific cameras, film, development, or printing processes?
I use a variety of 4x5 inch format cameras and also medium format 6x7 cm using TMAX 100 film. I tend to overexpose the film because I like to keep the exposures as long possible. I compensate by shortening the recommended negative development time by 25-30%. I like to use the multi-focal length Finney Camera for its lightweight and convenience when traveling. But I own and still love the Santa Barbara and Leonardo simple box cameras, especially when photographing at the sea or in the studio.

Copyright © 2010 Edward Levinson
Timescapes Japan - A Pinhole Journey

A Book of Edward Levinson's Pinhole Photographs Published June 2006

10 1/4 inch (w) x 9 3/4 inch (h)
108 pages, 96 Photos, Duotone

Purchase the book directly from edward's website or from Amazon.com
I have a trusty wide angle box I made with a 6x7 holder on it which I use a lot with the Cityscapes series, on rainy days, and when I want to be less conspicuous. Recently I had a Japanese hand-made camera maker make me a bellows camera that uses an old Mamiya 6x7 back. I use a variety of focal lengths in my work, so I love the adjustable focal length bellows design of the Finney and the new camera I have is based on that same design. (Carrying a bunch of 4x5 film holders through airports is getting to be a hassle these days, thus the new 120-size camera). I almost always use a tripod, a carbon one that can get very low to the ground or higher than my head when necessary. Since I am also a professional photographer my approach to pinhole is more traditional than experimental.

Copyright © 2010 Edward Levinson
Up Escalator
From the Cityscapes series: I was on the escalator facing backwards with the camera on a tripod.
I think it captures the essence of the Japanese salary man and would make a good ad for an energy drink!
I develop my own black and white film and use the wet darkroom for making my proofs and fiber exhibition prints. Unfortunately my favorite paper Agfa Multicontrast Classic with the semi matte surface isn't made any more. I occasionally make black and white pigment prints when the need arises. I have also been working with the three-hole Pinhole Blender 120 camera since 2006 combining three different images into an analogue collage using Fuji SG 100 color negative film. I get the film developed at a neighborhood lab, then scan, "work" on the colors on the computer, and make pigment prints.

In addition I have a large collection of boxes and cans that use paper negatives. I usually use them when I am with my students during workshops and it still fascinates me what you can do with them.

Copyright © 2010 Edward Levinson
Lost in the Hills
From the Mind Games series, done with the Pinhole Blender camera
You have an extensive history of solo and group exhibitions, outlined on your website. Which one specific exhibition has been the most meaningful for you?
That's a hard question! They are all meaningful. For the solo exhibition I would say the one I had in Krakow, Poland at the Manggha Center for Japanese Art and Technology, part of the National Museum. Not only was it a prestigious place but also I was a like an ambassador. I was showing photos of Japan that I had captured with my heart to people who were really interested in my interpretation of my adopted country.

Copyright © 2010 Edward Levinson
Guardian
From the diorama series, Fears and Hopes. The background is a pinhole image I took at Auschwitz concentration camp on one of my visits to Poland. Later looking at the photos I did there I found myself wondering how I could ever use them. I could feel the stories that occurred there but found it hard to visualize them. I found that creating dioramas with the photos and various dolls and objects somehow brought meaning to the scenes for me. So we have one-of-a-kind Buddha figure that a Japanese friend made especially for me, guarding the spirits of the camp, and honoring my Jewish Eastern European ancestors.
Japan has served as your home since 1979 and your broad portfolio is evidence of a deep love and respect for the country. What series of events led you to Japan?
I was living in the countryside in Virginia and working as a landscape gardener before I came to Japan. One reason I came was to visit a man named Masanobu Fukuoka, a Zen-like man who advocated imitating nature through Natural Farming. (Interestingly the pinhole camera is a good tool for Natural Photography, imitating what I see and feel.) I ended up working as a Japanese gardener for my first three years observing the culture with my eyes and heart rather than a camera. I was interested in spiritual things as well and saw the trip to Japan as a chance to experience oneness with a different culture and people. So it all ties back into my theme of Essence of Being, which is an ongoing process.

Copyright © 2010 Edward Levinson
Looking Glass
From the Silhouette Stories series
 
Final Thoughts: Edward is an impressive photographer that truely puts his heart into his work. His soulful images capture the rhythm of life and illustrate the beauty of his natural surroundings. Learn more about Edward on his website at http://www.edophoto.com.

- BJK, April 2010.