To flip through the pages of Jonathan Levitt’s book “Echo Mask” (Charcoal Press, 2019) is like entering into a dream state. The photos are lush, melancholy and, at times, sublime. I received the book back in May and was hoping to delve into it and write about it here but, well, things happened … on a global scale.
I’m not interested in talking about those things right now. Four plus months of working from home, avoiding people and wearing a mask has introduced enough anxiety, uncertainty and exhaustion into my, and I’m sure your, life. I don’t need anymore right now. And when I picked up “Echo Mask” again the other day it provided an immediate respite, a welcome diversion that sent me on a path of personal introspection. It’s a deeply reflective document about life and living.
To make the photos in the book, Levitt struck out into the natural landscapes of the United States’ northeast and southeast. Or, as the publisher notes, the photos were made “primarily in the Maritime Northeast between Newfoundland and Maine, and around the mangrove islands and hardwood hammocks of the subtropical Southeast.”
I’m a city person. I grew up in a more or less vertical concrete jungle. I never really went camping or hiking or any of that. Nature is a strange place for me. I’m usually more comfortable ambling through crowds on a densely packed sidewalk or getting from here to there on public transportation. Admittedly, there’s not much serenity there, unless you consciously just block it all out and slip into a kind of comforting anonymity.
But as I look through “Echo Mask,” I see another kind of checking out, or going into a deeply contemplative place as an individual. And although there is a kind of serenity in many of the quiet, moody and reflective images, there’s also a brutality to many of them as well. Reflecting on Levitt’s photos, fellow photographer Andrea Modica sums up the experience of going through the book so well, saying, “A heart-wrenchingly beautiful book, Echo Mask lives at the intersection of calmness and brutality, beauty and desperation.”
Actually, Modica’s description strikes me as noting that the book in fact is echoing life: calmness, brutality, beauty and desperation. It surely feels like we’ve been living through all of that for the last few months. True, we do regardless of a pandemic, but it has perhaps heightened those aspects of life. And true too, many of us have, consciously or not, become more contemplative and reflective over the past few months. Levitt’s book does this in a masterful and poetic way.
“Echo Mask” is published by Charcoal Press, which is the publishing imprint of Charcoal Book Club, a subscription book club. You can find out more about Charcoal Press here and Charcoal Book Club here.
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