The press release for Art Levit's photo show, Grids and Reflections, at Berkeley's Photolab Gallery proclaims: "Take a walk with a street photographer who only photographs trash. Really nice-looking trash." Uh, thanks, Levit says, but that's not exactly what it's all about.
The Oakland-based photographer does indeed find inspiration in the urban wasteland of empty cargo containers and railroad tracks, but it's textures, not necessarily trash, that he's chasing. Many of the images in the exhibition, Levit says, are "visions of recycling, including metal and plastic, that I accidentally happened upon in Oakland. I'm interested in the texture, the pattern of repetition, rhythms, colors."
The giclée prints -- such as the untitled one shot at the Port of Oakland that might as well be called "Uniglory" -- have an amazing amount of surface detail. Even the rust is eloquent. Levit captures these unpopulated scenes of used-up mechanical commodities with a digital SLR, and almost always works in color these days. A few times he's been chased away from his subjects, like the time he tried to shoot a row of salvaged auto engines in a mechanic's yard, but most often nobody cares about them. Part of Levit's working method is to listen to jazz music (pianist Brad Mehldau, sax player Chris Potter, et al.) on his Walkman as he prowls industrial zones, to help him get into the visual rhythms he sees.
The show also includes some rock surfaces Levit photographed on a recent excursion to Wyoming. The trip was an eye-opener: "The latest discovery for me was that the love I have for rhythms, patterns, and texture that I could not find in nature, I found in Wyoming." That's reflected in a series of photos of polished onyx, marble, and granite, also part of the exhibition. Admits Levit: "I'm basically not interested in nature photography." The show's opening reception is Sunday, December 12 (3 to 5 p.m.) at Photolab (2235 Fifth St., Berkeley, 510-644-1400, PhotoLaboratory.com/gallery.htm), and the pics stay on the walls through January 22.
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