Essay – Photography

Digital photo collage using vintage photo as a starting point

“Smokin’ Liz” by Lisa Levine

Many would claim that today we live in the golden age of photography. The technology to capture images is ubiquitous and the tools to perfect and manipulate them is inexpensive and simple enough for anyone to use.

In a world saturated with imagery, originality has become one of the crucial elements that defines modern art photography. Certainly, technical skill and capturing a decisive moment are still important, but it’s the artist’s unique perspective and ability to challenge viewers’ perceptions that elevate a photograph from snapshot to art. Originality breathes life into the medium, pushing the boundaries of what photography can express and fostering a connection between artist and audience that is deeper and more meaningful than is possible with a run-of-the-mill photograph.

Modern art photography, as any art form, is built on the shoulders of the innovators who have gone before and thrives on learning from – and challenging – established traditions and fresh interpretations alike.

At first glance Lisa Levine’s image “Smokin Liz” clearly owes a nod to David Hockney’s groundbreaking work of the 1980’s which used photographic collage to explore time and perspective. Here however the intent is less analytical and more impressionistic. The background is comprised of only three elements – sand, sky and palm trees – and yet explodes with complexity and detail. The two beach chairs placed in the mid-ground seem for the sole purpose of being scorned, or perhaps discarded, by Lisa’s protagonist who appears arrogantly contemptuous of this dazzling landscape, and poses, but for self-aware effect rather than for a photograph. Here she is both a part of this world and yet separated from it – a monochrome figure in a land of color. 

Lisa’s use of photography as a tool – rather than a medium in itself – elevates her work and gives her a more emotional language for expression. Blurring the line between photography and other visual arts also allows her to stand apart from the legion of photographic artists and crafts-people who, while producing excellent work, struggle to be heard above the noise.

A new approach or technique is only a part of the story, of course. It is the artist’s vision and how they manipulate the tools at their disposal which allows them to create a work that is both aesthetically stimulating and intellectually engaging.

This is true just as much for those working within the bounds of traditional photography as those breaking new ground. But whether it is based on a unique approach, an imaginative vision or incisive social commentary, it is the artist’s originality that provides the power to surprise, provoke, and inspire us.

In this work Lisa has built on a history of innovation to find her own original voice, and has used that voice to powerfully convey emotion, story and atmosphere.

Just as the impressionists threw realism in painting to the wind, modern fine art photographers like Lisa are finding ways to warp, stretch and expand the idea of what a photograph is, and can do.

It is this constant drive to push boundaries that will ensure art photography remains a dynamic and evolving medium, constantly reflecting the social, cultural, and technological landscape.

As Lisa Levine shows us with “Smoking Liz”, she has embraced this imperative and stands among those artists exploring the boundless possibilities of photography.

Nick Winkworth

March, 2024