Wayne Levin – ‘Through a Liquid Mirror’: Dimbola Museum, Isle of Wight, until 2nd June
Hiding down in the southwest corner of this holiday isle, hardly signposted and in the shadow of the truly ghastly tourist attraction that brings tourists to the Needles and Alum Bay, is the Dimbola Museum and Galleries. Essentially home to the ground-breaking work of nineteenth century photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, the permanent collection is hers. A plainspeakingart entry for this will be uploaded soon.
I moved on through the house though, and found other treasures. In particular, a series of underwater photographs extended through three or four rooms of this charmingly rambling house, the exhibition entitled ‘Through a Liquid Mirror’. Not normally given to appreciating photography I was, in almost an instant, a convert. Whoever Wayne Levin was, I loved him straightaway.
The title is so precisely right – go beneath the surface of the sea and you enter another world, like Alice through her Looking Glass. The light now comes through another medium, the creatures exist where we would die, the sounds of the world back above are muffled or gone. The photographs capture exactly that. An early exhibit got me, taken from perhaps 30 feet below the surface, looking back up at a swarm of triathletes in wet-suits jostling for place, a couple of fish in the silence below out of the way of the melee. Just so other-worldly.
Serendipity offered the chance to hear the artist speak that evening, and I stayed. In the hour or so I had to waste meantime I googled him and discovered that Wayne is, of course, massively accomplished and famous. He has exhibited at MOMA in New York and has an incredible reputation as an underwater photographer and academic. (For more, see http://www.waynelevinimages.com/ .) All the more exciting then to find him and his work in this tiny museum in this tiny town on this holiday island…
By way of introduction, the alarmingly unassuming Wayne told the audience, all thirty or so of us, that he felt fortunate to have combined his two great loves – photography and the ocean – and made a living from it. (Sigh…) As he showed us his photographs, he related an anecdote on each one, recalling every detail as if it were yesterday that he was out on that kayak, or down on that seabed off Hawaii, or free-diving amongst shoals of fish. I hung on every word, listening and watching and wondering about the dangers and the beauty of that other world beyond the liquid mirror. Sharks became tamed, dolphins became everyday, whales hung in his lens, schools of fish boiled around him, his two-year old daughter wriggled and danced as she learned to swim beneath calm water. Never has two hours evaporated so quickly.
I learned nothing much about photography apart from the scarcity of the black and white film that Wayne most enjoys using. He has purchased every roll he can lay his hands on and is mindful of the day he will have to ‘go digital’. In the meantime, he smiles about the times when the film ran out just as the long-awaited barracuda swam into sight or the potentially perfect shot of the playful dolphins was lost. He is laid-back and content. Oh, and a teeny bit deaf from all that deep sea scuba diving.
He has photographed surfers from below the water, capturing their wait for the perfect wave and the moment board and water combine; free divers as they flipper their way past him to ridiculous depths; shipwrecks in the Bikini atoll that have nearly eroded but made strange by non-corrosive pipes and structures; beautiful underwater and edge-of-water seascapes where waves and currents pull and push the land; fish, singular and patterned against the endless underwater vista, or frantic in protective schools; and perhaps most oddly entertaining of all, aquariums, those artificial seas that pose the puzzling binary of captivity and conservation, the blurry people appearing as the ones behind the glass.
A chance meeting with the artist later in the week gave the opportunity for some small talk. Perhaps not surprisingly after his work with fish schools, his eyes have wandered skywards to bird flocks. His pattern appreciation and understanding of nature augur well for this transfer – I shall be watching for more.