Art Exhibition: Homage to Pine Street: The Art of Neighborhood
By Nick Levitin
Documenting and Celebrating a Year in the Life of Our Pine Street Community
Through Oct. 28
Artist Talk: Sunday, Oct. 14, 3 p.m.
73 Pine St.
By GIOYA MCRAE
For Montclair Local
The “Homage to Pine Street” black and white photography exhibition tells the story of a neighborhood overlooked and the people who call it home. The show, featuring photographs by Nick Levitin, was conceived by Mary Z. Scotti, owner of 73 See Gallery and Design Studio owner.
“We needed to tell the story about here, and the variety of events and consistency of events and consistency of engagement,”Scotti said.
The exhibition had a well-attended opening reception Sept 16, she said.
Levitin will speak at the gallery on Oct. 14, and the exhibition will be included in Montclair’s Fall Art Walk on Oct 19.
Levitin, a West Orange resident, specializes in portrait photography, and has a BFA from Boston University, School of Fine and Applied Arts.
“Mary was showing me these beautiful paintings that artists had done of portraits of people in the neighborhood. I’m a portrait photographer. I thought, ‘Gee, I’d really like to do that with photography.’ Mary had a different idea,” he said. “So, this sort of gradually evolved into this undertaking.
“The very first conversation I had with Mary, I was just so taken with her vision of what a neighborhood could be and how much this gallery was offering. You have community organizing. You have chess nights. You have my performance art and musicians who engage the community in such a special way.”
Levitin took a thousand photographs over the course of a year. Then Scotti and Levitin narrowed the exhibit to 65 images. “The first photographs I took were of the Chess Club,” Levitin said. “That was my first encounter meeting the people here. Everyone, each person, was so interesting and so committed to the neighborhood.
“Most people were very welcoming, and then it’s as if I didn’t exist. I was just walking around taking pictures. No one was conscious of it. They just allowed me in in a very beautiful way.
“As I spent the year photographing, I was profoundly affected by [the process]. It was really something beautiful and unexpected, and the idea of art being a change agent rather merely something for the elite was really compelling.
“The subject of the photos was the various events that I photographed, whether it was a street festival, whether it was a performance, whether it was an art exhibit, people planting plants along the street or people preparing food during the winter for people who needed food. So those are the natural things that I photographed.”
Scotti conquered the challenge of arranging the exhibit in an engaging way. “I clustered chess night, gardening being done on the street, music, and engagement,” she said. “I got to show from each of those things the breadth of what happens [here].
“We wanted to make it accessible for people to engage with so many images. What we found was people are just up close and personal with them.”
Levitin said that his former life as an actor segued into photography organically. He even supported himself by doing headshots for actors, and portfolios for actor models. “There was always this tension between photography, cinematography and acting,” he said. “I didn’t have a TV but when I went to the movies with these huge images, there was something about the images of the faces that captivated me, the landscape of the human face. When I look through the lens, I’m looking for the drama of life. I’m looking for those moments that connect us and engage us.”
His work shooting headshots and portfolios evolved into doing theatrical production photography and corporate work.
“I shot color for about 10-12 years. Only recently have I found myself yearning for something that only the black and white pictures provided. That is it makes you work a little harder. It engages you because you don’t have it all there in front of you.
“I’m just very grateful to the people of Pine Street who made all this possible. I learned a lot. I learned to appreciate an environment I didn’t know existed. I also learned to see life anew.”