From Death Valley to the Montreal skyline, Gary Paul Levinson’s rural and urban landscape photographs have taken him far and wide. Yet his interest in fine art began close to home, when he was eight years old. “My older brother purchased rather sophisticated equipment, an SLR, and he constructed a black and white darkroom in our home,” Levinson says. "The process of taking pictures on film and watching them develop in the darkroom was fascinating to me."
Growing up in rural Connecticut, land of brilliant foliage, Levinson came to love the colors of autumn—a love that is reflected in his self-published photography collection, The Vibrant Landscape. A BookLife Review praises the collection, saying “every page of this exquisite book is a new and exciting experience for the reader.” The review (an Editor's Pick) also notes the technical expertise that he brings to the images: “Levinson leans toward an even split between foreground and background images and a deliberate balance of foliage, water, and rock. That creates cohesion from image to image as well as the book as a whole.”
While Levinson works in the field of family law, his interest in observing and documenting natural beauty has persisted since childhood. With nearly 100 color plates from 1998 to 2018, The Vibrant Landscape represents two decades of travel and photography, with images shot on the California Coast; in the Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Olympic, and Yosemite national parks; and at Lake Tahoe and other locations.
Discovering and photographing a place of little-known or liminal beauty is exciting, but Levinson has never shied from shooting photos of familiar places. “Infusing fresh life into an image or subject that has been frequently photographed has never been a major concern for me," Levinson says. "There are so many variables in a photographed image that, even when people come together and photograph the same area, they come away with very different images. I like and emphasize the boldness and vibrancy of nature.”
Though Levinson’s preference is to photograph rural scenes, a number of images in the book feature urban areas. Over the last several years, Levinson has experimented with taking b&warchitectural images. “The urban landscape is a man-made environment, but has a unique beauty created by nonnatural forces,” he says.
In addition to Levinson’s images, The Vibrant Landscape includes an introduction by the Hollywood set designer Robert Zuckerman and an essay written by a fellow photographer, Margaretta K. Mitchell. The essay provides insights into traditions of landscape photography, placing Levinson’s body of work within historical context. “Before she started writing her essay, we met at her home several times to review all of my work, talk about my images, and talk about photography in general," he says. "It was a wonderful experience to converse with someone who has such a fine understanding of the medium.”
In selecting the images for the book, Levinson experienced something of what a short story author might feel when picking and choosing from a broader body of work. “I started with about 130 images that I thought were worthy of publishing. I narrowed that down to the 98 in the book.Of course, that isn’t particularly easy, as all of my images, to me, are my creations, or what I fondly refer to as my offspring.” The order of the images follows a loose chronological pattern based on when they were photographed over the 20-year period. As a result, the earliest images in the book were taken with a film camera.
When it came to the layout and placement of the images, Levinson consulted with his first creative collaborator: his brother. One of the chief considerations was ensuring that opposing photographs would visually and compositionally complement one another. From a design, color, and thematic perspective, the images also offer striking contrast. As the BookLife review notes, one spread features a photograph of an Alaskan sunset; opposite that image is a shot of a moonrise above Mono Lake in California.
Regardless of locale, or the natural colors blooming in the camera’s line of vision, Levinson’s creative process remains consistent. First and foremost, his photographs emerge from the exhilaration he feels while being in nature or the energy of a cityscape: “I walk slowly, looking carefully at my surroundings, breathing slowly and deeply. When I see something that I wish to photograph, I stop, set up my tripod and camera, and slowly and purposefully compose the image I wish to capture.” Levinson’s steady, contemplative approach to photography comes through on the pages of the lush compilation—a balm for housebound readers yearning for natural wonder.