Melba Levick’s work is characterized by its sensuality, its precision, its composition, and its treatment of light. Most of her work is in color, and her mature work evidences a thoroughly thought out mise en scene with not a single detail left to chance. Everything is calibrated to the millimeter so that by the time she has finished a magical and absolutely singular moment has been created.
In this exhibition Melba Levick shows us one of her best-kept secrets: the work of her youth. Twenty four years old, arriving in Formentera, she was stopped in her tracks by the power and magnetism that the island gave off, and she set about trying to capture it in a series of black and white photos, using powerful contrast to present the drama and give authority to her landscapes and the subjects of her portraits.
One only has to imagine Melba arriving on the island, full of the joy of discovering an unknown universe, which presented itself to her eyes as an attractive mystery that hid hundreds of emotions and sensations for her to live. With all of her artistic potential yet to unfold to find herself in a unique setting where the light—the cherished element of all photographers—was almost blindingly present. Perhaps the hidden desire of this collection is to realize, using black and the entire scale of grays and whites, a series of emphatic and daring images. Her desire to learn is also evident as many of these images are authentic, visual experiments the result of which today are overwhelmingly forceful, erotic and passionate. The thing about Melba Levick’s work is that it captures one’s attention with its simple, but technically very well-defined glance, and this allows the spectator to travel in time and to inhabit for several seconds the Formentera of the late sixties and the two decades which followed.
The 25 photographs which are exhibited are something more than just her first negatives realized between 1969 and 1971; these photos represent an authentic artistic challenge. From the sobriety of the portraits of the ‘Formenterenses’, with all the manifest force and simplicity of their daily lives, to the contrasting hippie world which is foretold and realized in her approach to photography and the experimental nature of her subject matter. Her nudes are one more sign of the late 60’s rebellion, the desire to break with convention that spread virally through all of the her generation. But in 1984 Melba Levick gives us yet another spin and walks through the looking glass like ‘Alice in Wonderland’, putting herself in front of the lens while looking at her subject through the view finder—an exercise of doubling and symmetry with an astonishing result.
The exhibition is completed by a projection of color photographs taken from her three subsequent books about Formentera. In this way Melba invites several generations of ‘formenterenses’ and lovers of the island to voyage and return, to see and recognize ourselves in her images, which foretell the photographer she has become, the photographer she is today.
Translated by Hugh Levick
The photos by Melba in this exhibition are a destination of the soul. More than images, they are windows that open onto our longing, allowing us to remember this destination which today, even in Formentera, has been more or less lost, has more or less disappeared. Simplicity, searching, being, playfulness, sensuality, a certain arduous purity, and much more are present here. It was not simply that we were young that those of us who had the privilege of living these momentos lejanos have, somewhere deep inside, never been able to settle for less.
I am probably not alone in offering my gratitude to Melba for the profound and delicious ache that these unspeakably meaningful photos provoke.