“Modern Romance” in a dolled-up world:

Capturing historic moments, climactic scenes, and real life beauty make photography a unique medium. From Lewis Hine’s early sharp focus images of blue-collar workers to the crisp clear landscape photos of Ansel Adams, photography has clearly made its mark in the world of art. After nearly thirty years of experience, New York photographer David Levinthal has become a master of illusion, authenticating with his set-up creations little details that are often overlooked.
Currently, works by David Levinthal, From the Valley of the Dolls (1985-2001), are being showcased at the Daniel Azoulay Gallery. Divided into four main themes-“Wild West,” “Barbie,” “Modern Romance,” and “XXX”-the exhibit delves into traditional American values of freedom, conquering frontiers, romantic love and the concept of sex and fetish.
Arranging dolls and toys in sundry displays and scenes, he applies a skilful eye for lighting to form realistic landscapes of American life. His meticulous trickery and playful use of soft focus as well as a shallow depth of field make these three-inch plastic toys seem like the real deal. Moreover, he uses huge format Polaroid film to compose his prints, making it impossible for two prints to be identical.
For the “Wild West” series, the Yale graduate took toys that he ordered through a catalog and carefully placed the figures and the entire setting in order to recreate not only childhood memories but also Hollywood fantasies of the old West. Here, two pieces printed on canvas generate an interesting, painted texture.
Furthermore, his Barbie dolls-charily posed, lit with detailed attention-provide a new perspective on an American icon. Here, a Barbie with a black dress and big blonde hair is seen from the back, the soft focus and lighting forming a hallucinatory figure of Marilyn Monroe. Upon closer inspection, the beautiful siren looms merely as a doll with plastic joints and fake hair.
One of Levinthal’s most ambitious projects, “Modern Romance,” appears to be movie stills. His small figures are hand-painted and set in dramatic lighting, then, with a video camera and a direct stream to a TV, he photographed the screen. Since it was a direct stream and not recorded, these images cannot be duplicated and have a thespian quality to them, showing clichEd scenes of movies of his own creation.
Taking dolls and figures bought at sex stores and using similar staging techniques, his “XXX” series turn these six-inch toys into bondage princesses of “flesh and blood” and the photos transform into a synthetic peep show from New York’s Times Square.
The exhibit is at Daniel Azoulay until Jan. 13, 2003 at 3900 A NE 1 Avenue, Miami. For more info, go to www.danielazoulagallery.com

Kira Wisniewski can be reached at kira@punks.net