A violin maker sculpts wood into an instrument. A break dancer twists his legs into the air. A glassblower shapes molten glass.
These artists’ portraits are just a few of many photographs on display as part of Larry Levine’s exhibit at the Sandy Spring Museum.
“I have been thinking about what creativity means and it is not just traditional art,” Levine, 66, said. “It started with traditional artists, it started with most of the people who I knew in my inner circle — Jewish artists.”
The exhibit, called “CreativitY with a Capital WHY?” features portraits and photos of people engaging their creativity as Levine has observed it.
Accompanying each photo is a quote from its subject about why he or she engages in that creative process. Levine wanted to portray a sense of why people engage in their creativity, knowing that a still photograph only shows part of the story.
“I really like to be able to capture the one image that tells a story for me,” the Rockville resident said. “[The exhibit shows] creativity, not art.”
One photo is of an ophthalmologist looking through a surgical microscope and surgical light. Levine got the idea to photograph her when he needed to have cataract surgery. One portrait shows a chocolatier holding a tray of finished truffles. Another is a photo of the NASA Hubble Team.
Originally from Connecticut, Levine moved to the Washington area in 1980 to look for a job. He became a staff photographer for the Washington Metro system, where he captured photos to teach the public about the work the transit system was doing.
He covered inaugurations and marches in Washington and groundbreaking of new Metro stations. Levine said local transit-oriented publications often used his photos, and his work was featured in the in-house newsletter that goes out to about 13,000 WMATA employees.
He retired in 2017 after 36 years with Metro. Levine wanted to create his own “high quality body of work,” now that he has more time for personal projects.
“I have so much time to try stuff and not be afraid to fail at it,” he added.
Levine spent about two years meeting with his subjects, and only stopped once he found out how much exhibit space he would have. His original idea kept expanding. “And so just one person led to another.”
He also wanted to highlight the immense diversity that exists in the world of artists. He has a series of photos of a deaf artist working with clay to create tile paintings, a Chinese ink brush artist who creates Chinese landscapes and Native American powwow dancers.
“I think that when someone goes into a museum, they should be able to see themselves, whether national origin, skin color, language, religion, sexual orientation, I don’t care,” Levine said. “People should be able to see themselves in a picture.”
And he measured the walls at the exhibit to be sure he had enough room for all the photos. Once he takes a picture of someone, that’s a pledge to use it.
Levine became interested in photography in the third grade, when he started using a Brownie camera. He said he thinks capturing images fits his personality, and he’s always curious to learn about people or places he encounters.
“I really like still photography. There’s a discipline to it. You’re forced to get the picture, you know?” Levine said.
And whether it’s for work or pleasure, he said he follows his gut feeling when it comes to capturing the right moment. “It clicks. It comes together. You see, ‘Yes, that’s the image.’”
The Sandy Spring Museum is showing Levine’s exhibit in three areas of the museum. Local artists are often featured there; pottery and books are in glass display cases ready for purchase.
“This museum is a fabulous venue and the people are so nice to work with and so helpful that it was such a pleasure,” Levine said.
Levine also compiled the images from his exhibit into a book of the same name, which is for sale along with his photographs at the exhibit. “CreativitY with a capital WHY?” will be showing at Sandy Spring Museum through Nov. 24.