story by John Wythe White
photos by Wayne Levin
Twenty years ago, photographer Wayne Levin ventured underwater at Makapuu Beach and resurfaced with a collection of eerily beautiful images of swim-finned bodysurfers, gliding like otherworldly birds through cloud-like breaking waves.
Since then, Levin has consistently surprised and delighted viewers with extraordinary pictures from the underwater realm. In his newest collection, Other Oceans (University of Hawaii Press), he again takes a unique and provocative perspective on his chosen territory, portraying sea creatures in both their natural habitats and the artificial environments of public aquariums, being observed by human beings.
Capturing fascinating moments in both locales, Levin prompts us to ponder our own relationship to nature, both individually and socially. The stunning images, accompanied by thoughtful essays from Waikiki Aquarium Director Bruce Carlson and others, address the paradoxical role of aquariums in the contemporary world, as they work both to preserve natural aquatic environments and, in effect, to replace them.
Intriguingly, Levin seems to view the voyeuristic art of photography in a similar light. One of the book's essayists re-calls commenting to Levin, "I'd guess very few people have drowned in an aquarium," to which he replied, "Or been eaten by a photograph."
Another focus of Other Oceans is Levin's ongoing fascination with massive schools of akule (big-eyed scad) near his home in South Kona.
Swirling in dense, geometric formations, the akule schools appear to form a single, conscious organism of many parts. Levin is so taken with the akule that he is planning to do an entire book on them. "They look like a giant undulating sculpture," he says, "constantly shifting its shape especially when a predator shows up."