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Levin's new focus


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POSTED: Sunday, May 17, 2009

In his efforts to represent Hawaii in the 50 States Project, photographer Wayne Levin—perhaps best known for his black-and-white underwater shots of swimmers, surfers, free-divers and marine life—has thus far stayed on land. Levin said the concept of taking part in a collaborative, national endeavor lured him back to the earth and people as subjects.

"I thought it sounded like an interesting project," Levin said from his home in Honolulu. "Obviously, it wouldn't be a moneymaking venture. But it's just one photograph every two months, which sounded easy and fun."

The 50 States Project invited one photographer from each of the 50 states to submit six pictures over the course of a year. An assignment is announced every two months, and the photographer has until the next one to produce an image that fits the description. The end result will be 300 photographs depicting the diversity of the nation, from the viewpoint of many different artists.

"Essentially, it's an art piece and also a chance for the 50 individuals to showcase their work, hopefully to a wider audience," curator Stuart Pilkington said in an e-mail message. "It seems to have connected with people; we have waves of visitors who then contact us with suggestions and further opportunities. We have been approached by a publishing agent in New York and various magazines that would like to feature the project in their publications, so it's really a journey."

Pilkington, who is also a photographer, lives in the United Kingdom. Last year he curated other photography exhibits such as the Alphabet Project (http://www.alphabetproject.co.uk) and 12 Faces (www.12faces.org) in an effort to gather photographers to work collaboratively.

"I wanted to hone my own skills as a photographer, and the only way I could think of doing this was by getting out there and working alongside talented individuals," he said. "And the projects seemed a great vehicle for doing this."

Along the way, however, he realized that he enjoyed the management side more than the actual photography. So he decided to focus on curating in his next undertaking.

THE IDEA FOR the 50 States Project arose from widespread U.S. election coverage in England, which included an infusion of television shows about America. Pilkington recalled one such program, where actor and comic Stephen Fry traveled through all 50 states in a London taxi. It was one of several sparks that ignited the 50 States idea.

"I realized that I didn't know as much about the USA as I thought I did, and could use the project to work with the emerging art photographers in the USA, and at the same time discover something about the country," he wrote.

At 63, with a lifetime of photography behind him (and limited-edition prints that sell for thousands of dollars), Levin probably is beyond "emerging." Indeed, it took only a couple of recommendations from other photographers and a link to Levin's Web site for Pilkington to extend an invitation.

"I was really struck by the beautiful black-and-white images he has taken over the years of surfers, the sea and what lies beneath the waves," Pilkington said of Levin. "His images of whales and dolphins are stunning, and have a real ethereal quality."

Levin is now pondering a shot near Makapuu and Waimanalo for the third assignment: "Landscape." Pilkington will announce the final three assignments in July, September and November. One day, hopefully, the images will be compiled into a coffee table book. Meanwhile, they're all available on the official Web site at www.50statesproject.net.