Photographic Purist Nadine Levin’s Naked Eye

Cottonwood Church, Photography 28.5 x 19

One thinks first of Andrew Wyeth, on seeing Nadine Levin’s Giclee print on canvas “Cottonwood Church.” What grabs you is the deadpan American gothic plainness of this image of a weathered wooden colonial structure, standing along a desolate country road, beside a gnarled tree, its bare black limbs clawing like arthritic fingers at a bare white sky. It is a picture whose beauty lies in its utter starkness. 
    Just as memorable is Levin’s “Forgotten,” in which an old barn and a grain elevator stand side by side like two generations of sharecroppers on a flat, dusty plain that appears to define the term “scorched earth.” The unforgiving starkness of these pictures harks back to Walker Evens and other photographic purists. Indeed, Levin eschews all the special effects, chromatic razzle dazzle, visual manipulation of the digital revolution, and other forms of image manipulation. Relying on light filters, and light alone, she states, “I try to capture simple images from everyday life that we so often overlook and present them as art.”
    In the West, the adventurous artist –– who has loved photography ever since childhood, but dedicated herself to it more wholeheartedly after surviving a life-threatening brain aneurism, often pursues images on horseback. She also employs infrared photography to call upon frequencies of light below the visible spectrum and imbue certain images with a rarefied phosphorescence.
    “My inspiration is nature,” Levin says. “To be able to photograph nature in an altered form solely through the use of infrared light, allows me to be true to my love of traditional photography and yet present it in a more contemporary and thought provoking manner.”
    One of the most lyrical examples of the infrared technique can be seen in “Twinkling,” a close-up of leaves sprinkled with buds that glow and sparkle like stars. Others are “Nice Curves,” in which a plant form exudes a sensuality akin to Robert Mapplethorpe, and “Aging Gracefully 2,” where the spreading limbs and delicate pink leaves of a magnificent old tree spread out, as though embracing the entire surrounding landscape.
    This rarefied radiance also enlivens “Clouds Over Paradise,” in which high-stacked cumulonimbi fill an enormous sky above a lone palm tree in the lower right hand corner of the composition. Its leafy limbs are in perfect visual harmony with the soft cloud shapes above. Yet another magnificent cloud formation of longer and flatter dimensions fans out over a row of trees along the higher horizon-line of another panoramic print that Levin calls “Movin’ Along.”
    In contrast to her expansive vistas, capturing close-ups of plant life set against either dark or light contrasting backgrounds is another area of nature photography in which Levin excels, as seen in the compositions she has titled “Umbrella Plant 1,” “Outstretched Hands,” and “Reaching Out.” While the first envelopes the viewer in graceful leaves that fan out around a central stem, in the latter two pictures, the long, slender, light-toned fronds stretch out horizontally, as though trying to grasp the surrounding darkness.
    “Every moment that passes is one that will never come again,” says Nadine Levin, who is a native of Washington D.C., now residing in Poolesville, Maryland. “Some of the images associated with those moments are worthy of preserving for all time.” 
 –– Thomas Rafferty

Nadine Levin, Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, May 16 - June 5, 2014. Reception: Thursday, May 22, 6 - 8pm

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