Photo by John Hook
Wayne Levin was born in Los Angeles in 1945. His father gave him a Brownie camera, and a little kit to develop his own film, for his 12th birthday. From then on he was hooked on photography.
After graduating high school in 1962, he attended Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California. Motivated to participate in the Civil Rights movement, Wayne left Brooks in 1964. Over the next several years he worked with the Congress of Racial Equality and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
No longer a student, he lost his deferment and was to be drafted when he decided to join the Navy instead. He spent two years aboard the USS Hornet, seven months of which were off the coast of Vietnam. While in the Navy, his family moved to Hawaii, and upon his discharge in 1968, he moved there to join them. His interest in travel and photography led him to take a year and a half trip around the world. Wayne sailed through the South Pacific and traveled over land through Asia and Europe.
He later traveled for 6 months throughout Japan and Korea, and made a final trip to Mexico and Central America. Documenting his travels through photography, these images later became the basis for his first solo exhibitions at Gima’s Art Gallery and The Downtown Galleries’ in Honolulu. In the early 70s he was hired as an assistant for the renowned Hawaii photographer Robert Wenkham. After several years working with Wenkham, and architectural photographer Augie Salbosa, he started his own commercial photography business.
In 1976 Wayne decided to continue his education majoring in fine art photography at the San Francisco Art Institute, where he studied under Linda Connor, John Collier, Henry Wessel, Larry Sultan, and Ellen Brooks amongst others.
Wayne graduated with a BFA in photography from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1979, and the following year attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn New York. He studied with Arthur Freed and Phil Perkis, and received an MFA in 1982. He moved back to Hawaii in 1983 to teach photography at the University of Hawaii, and purchased a Nikonos IV underwater camera as a graduation gift to himself. Wayne began an underwater photographic study of surfers, and received a National Endowment for the Arts Photographers’ Fellowship for this work in 1984. Later that year, he was invited to photograph the Leprosy Settlement at Kalaupapa on Molokai. He documented the settlement between 1984 and 1987 using black and white film and a 4×5 view camera. This work culminated in the book, Kalaupapa: A Portrait co-published by the Arizona Memorial Museum Foundation and the Bishop Museum in 1989.
In 1986, Wayne started the photography program at La Pietra, Hawaii School for Girls, where he taught as an artist-in-residence for a year. He received an Ohio Arts Council artist-in-residence at the Dayton Art Institute for two years from 1987 to 1989. During his residency, he taught photography and arranged exhibitions for his students’ work. Additionally, he produced and exhibited several bodies of work, including an in-depth study of Hospice of Dayton, which was the second largest Hospice in the United States at that time. This project earned him an Ohio Arts Council Photographers Fellowship.
Upon finishing his residency in Ohio, Wayne returned to Hawaii, marrying in 1990, and relocated to Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. A friend suggested he photograph the dolphins in Kealakekua Bay, which led to his re-immersion of underwater photography. During the following years, he received magazine assignments to photograph throughout the Pacific and Caribbean, and further developed his reputation as a black and white underwater photographer.
In the early 90s, he participated in a book project, along with photographers, Franco Salmoiraghi, David Ulrich and Roland Reeves, documenting the misuse, by the U.S. military, and restoration of the Hawaiian Island of Kaho`olawe. In 1995, Kaho`olawe: Na Leo O Kanaloa was published by `Ai Pohaku Press. It received the Hawaii Book Publishers Association, Hawaii Book of the Year award in 1996. The photographs from this project were exhibited at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, and traveled throughout the Hawaiian Islands for the following two years. An exhibition, Kaho`olawe: Rebirth of a Sacred Hawaiian Island, was presented at the Arts and Industries Building, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. in 2002.
In 1993, Wayne was one of six artists included in the First Biennial Exhibit at the Contemporary Museum, in Honolulu. The underwater portraits of his daughter Elise, from age 6 months to 2 years, explored her interaction with the ocean while learning to swim, further extending Wayne's black and white underwater portfolio.
Editions Limited published Wayne’s first book of his black and white underwater work, Through a Liquid Mirror
[with an Introduction by Thomas Farber]. This book received the Hawaii Book Publishers Association, Hawaii Book of the Year award in 1997.
From 1999 to 2001, Wayne traveled throughout the United States and Japan photographing aquariums. His objective was to investigate the phenomena of society creating hi-tech mini oceans as the world’s oceans become increasingly endangered. This project led to the book, Other Oceans [Introduction by Thomas Farber, essays by Bruce A. Carlson and Frank Stewart], published by University of Hawaii Press in 2001.
Wayne’s photographs have been exhibited nationally and internationally at galleries, including National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C.; Dimbola Museum, United Kingdom; M.I.A. Gallery, Seattle; Tokyo Designer Space, Japan; New York University, Tisch School of Art Gallery, New York City; Robert Koch Gallery, San Francisco; Louis Stern Fine Arts, Los Angeles; Rosenberg & Kaufman Fine Art, New York; Contemporary Art Center of Virginia, Virginia Beach; High Museum, Atlanta; and the VIP room of the American Pavilion at the World’s Fair, Japan.
Major public collections include the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Photographic Art, San Diego; The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu; The National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C.; The Dimbola Museum, United Kingdon; and the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, Honolulu. His work has been published in Aperture, American Photographer, Camera Arts, Day in the Life of Hawaii, Photo Japan, and LensWork, among others.
In recent years, Wayne has continued to focus on depicting the underwater world with black and white film. He has photographed sea life, surfers, canoe paddlers, free divers, swimmers, shipwrecks, seascapes and aquariums. In short, he has attempted to depict as many aspects of the ocean as possible within the boundaries of the black and white genre.
In 2006, Wayne received an Individual Artists Fellowship from the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts.
Wayne was invited by Dr. Randal Kosaki to accompany the August 2009 research cruise of the NOAA vessel Hi’ialakai to the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. He felt extremely privileged to be allowed the opportunity to visit and photograph a place that so few people are able to visit. As he journeyed through these islands and atolls, Wayne came to feel he was in an extraordinary place. It is a place of both awesome natural power, and extreme fragility. Many of the unique species are critically endangered, and the pollution from the entire pacific threatens this pristine environment.
In 2010, Editions Limited published, Akule, Wayne’s book of black and white underwater photographs of the schooling fish [with essays by Thomas Farber and Frank Stewart].
With the support of the organization, Ka ‘Ohana O Kalaupapa, Wayne put together a 100 print traveling exhibition of photographs of Kalaupapa in 2011. This exhibit was displayed at Molokai Museum & Cultural Center, Kalae, Hawaii until August 2016. In 2012, Ili Na Ho’omana’o o Kalaupapa: Casting Remembrances of Kalaupapa, a book of Wayne’s photographs of the residents and descendants of Kalaupapa, was published by Pacific Historic Parks. This exhibit was shown on all major Hawaiian Islands.
After spending a decade photographing fish schools, Wayne’s interest turned from sea to sky. He began a series of photographs of bird flocks. He traveled to Oregon and Northern California to photograph the migrating Snow Geese and Canada Geese. Wayne later traveled to the United Kingdom in 2012 to photograph the starling flocks that gather every evening.
Wayne completed an extended assignment for SCUBAPRO to celebrate their 50th anniversary in 2012. His photographs are featured in the SCUBAPRO catalogue, an in-house SCUBAPRO e-book, and in other advertisements and promotions for SCUBAPRO.
In 2013, Wayne was honored to have a solo exhibition at the Dimbola Museum on the Isle of Wight in the UK. The Dimbola Museum is housed on the former residence of the renowned Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.
In 2014, his work was exhibited at the Datz Museum in South Korea, along with the work of American Photographer Barbara Bosworth, and Korean artist Yun Soo Kim. A beautiful new limited edition book of Wayne’s work, Flowing, was published by Datz Press.
Wayne’s solo exhibition of his Akule images at the National Academy of Sciences, West Gallery, in Washington, D. C. was selected D.C.’s Best Photography Exhibit in 2015.
In 2015, the Datz Museum presented a one-man exhibition of Wayne’s photographs from Jeju Island in South Korea. They also published a portfolio book, Islands, Jeju.
In 2020, Wayne traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border, where he photographed the humanistic artwork on the Mexican side, and the warning sings, and high-tech surveillance equipment on the U.S. side. This work culminated in the creation of a YouTube exhibit titled "Where Borders Cross," with music by Kris Kesoglides and Elise Levin.
While looking through old slides, Wayne came across photographs he took on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March. This work was published as a zine by Tritone Press in January 2022.
Still residing in Hawaii, Wayne continues to photograph the underwater world using his Nikonos film cameras.