Photographer Andy Levin has been editing a slideshow for the upcoming Look 3: Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville. (The slideshow is the idea of festival founder Michael “Nick” Nichols and technical advisor Jon Golden, who said that they were looking for ways to open up festival participation to an even wider community of photographers.) Andy has been soliciting submissions from Lightstalkers and other photographic communities. Andy discusses the submission process and why he got involved.
Wayne: Why were you willing to become involved with this project?
Andy: I want to make something happen. There is a tremendous amount of great work going on, but it’s all over the place. Because [a community like] Lightstalkers is the crossroads for a large part of the photographic commuity, I thought that by tapping into that resource I might be able to help make a statement about where photography is today.
I thought that Nick [Nichols] and Jon [Golden], [organizers of Festival of the Photograph], were really coming from the same place in creating the festival, and when you got [the process] started, I jumped at the chance, and carved out a little space for myself. I had already spent some time before [Hurricane] Katrina surfing the [online photo] galleries and marking images that I thought were exceptional, so this was a way to take all that work and do something with it. It’s also part of giving back to the community. What goes around comes around.
Wayne: Why has it been worth all the hours you have been devoting?
Andy: I don’t know if it’s worth it. I will leave others to decide. But I like looking at other people’s work, and I believe that it makes me a better photographer for it. When you really like something it doesn’t feel like a chore. It’s easy…..the sequencing is the most problematic part, and I may try to enlist some folks to help with ideas for that.
Wayne: Why is it so important to you to try and include at least a single image from every person who takes the time to submit?
Andy: Initally, it was kind of a democratic thing. I will work very hard to find something that works. I will go to a website or look at an archive. It’s a consideration to the people who want to be included. I don’t want to dilute it too much either, so in some cases, either I can’t find anything, or there is a duplication of subject matter. There are going to be a few people who are not represented, and I feel badly about that, but it’s a group thing as far as I am concerned so we all benefit. Hopefully, we will have projects in the future [where] they will contribute too.
Wayne: What kind of opportunity does this slideshow provide for both emerging and established photographers?
Andy: I don’t know, it depends on who sees the projection. As much as it, in small part, contributes to the atmosphere at the festival then that will also be a good thing. Let’s see what people think about it and go from there. I have taken the images with the understanding that it is for this one event, but we may go back and ask permission for other things.
Wayne: How useful was your background as a contributor to several [of Life magazine’s] A Day in the Life projects to you here?
Andy: Very valuable, but different. I wish we could do something like that again. But screening books for [Black Star’s] Howard Chapnick was probably a better preparation, even if it was 30 years ago. It’s pretty easy for me to edit other people’s work. To edit my own takes decades, but that’s the way it goes.
Editing other people’s work is the best way to learn how to shoot. Shooting is the best way to learn how to edit. The two ideas chase each other. Day in the Life was a group project, but the editors had all the power in the end. As much as I liked the books, I always thought that they weren’t always as edgy as I would like, so here I can articulate that a little bit.
Wayne: What have you done to solicit photos for the slideshow?
Andy: Mostly begged. Just kidding. But I have emailed people, and the response has been pretty good. I haven’t heard from Zalmai [Ahad], but I am still hoping. If any one knows him, put in a good word. I really like his work.
Wayne: What did you do to try to get a balance in representation from a photographic community like Lightstalkers? What specific “holes” in subject matter or theme did you try to fill?
Andy: Most of the work submitted is similar enough in look that its not a problem. Most of the fine art photographers on Lightstalkers are mostly coming from a documentary perspective. As far as the holes, there are rather large ones, unfortunately, but one can only do what one can do.
Wayne: So, what “holes,” exactly?
Andy: I just got great sets from Gary Knight and Timothy Fadek, so I am happy today. There is a lot to share. I think we need the stone-throwers from the West Bank… it’s an important and iconic symbol that should be represented. Shots of the very wealthy are in short supply, almost non-existent.
Wayne: Given how heavily photojournalism (and specifically, crisis photography) is represented on a site like Lightstalkers, what else did you do to balance the work from segments like the fine arts photographers? How did the “Human Condition” theme inform the process?
Andy: I don’t think it’s a problem. The mix is good, and we want to be as inclusive as possible, but most of what I am looking at is photojournalism or documentary work.
Wayne: What surprised you most about the images that were submitted?
Andy: Some of the best work came from people that never post [on photography-related message boards like Lightstalkers].
Wayne: What surprised you about the photographers who submitted? Among the photographers who were not well known to you before this submissions process, which ones stuck out for the excellence of their work?
Andy: I am not going to give that away. People need to see the images and decide for themselves. I want it to be a surprise. But it’s not that hard to spot great photography, it jumps out. I think it’s going to be stunning, but that’s me.
Wayne: Were you surprised to get images from any better known photographers?
Andy: Some better known, some unknown. The idea is for everyone to pool together.
Wayne: You have said that in selecting images for this kind of slideshow, there can be disagreements in the community about “technique.” What did you mean?
Andy: Some photographers like to use a lot of post-processing on their images, burning and dodging, saturation, whatever. Others have a stricter approach as to what they will do to an image. We can argue in merit, but to go forward, my position is that both are valid, and both are included in this collection.
Wayne: Besides the slideshow (at Festival of the Photograph) itself, in what other forms and venues would you like to see this work?
Andy: In so much as we can get images onto bigger screens, or onto paper, that would be great. Lets see what people think.
Wayne: Going back to your earlier statement, what do you think this show says about the state of photography today?
Andy: The pictures speak better than I can about that, but if I didn’t like the pictures I wouldn’t be doing this. More than anything though this is about a virtual community enabled by Shinji and Teru [Kuwayama], the founders of Lightstalkers. This is an unofficial show [unaffiliated with Lightstalkers] that is officially dedicated to them.