“Out of Place” is the result of feeling like an insider and outsider simultaneously. In this tenuous state, reality flip-flops, inanimate objects appear full of life, personality, and sometimes, humor; figure-ground relationships distort, and cultural markers become parody.
I have lived in this state for most of my life, always searching for “home.” I felt more at ease in cultures that were not my own, enjoying the challenge of adventure, but also liking that I could not be blamed for whatever ills besieged them.
Famous for its lemurs, and notorious for destroying their habitat, the island of Madagascar was not much of a tourist destination when I first arrived in 1992. Hotels were scarce, amenities even scarcer, and whatever infrastructure the French colonizers had put in place during their tenure had been left unattended since their departure in 1960. It was remote, mysterious, and incredibly beautiful.
Perhaps it was the sub-equatorial light reflecting off the island’s red clay earth at day’s end, the warm and welcoming Malagasy people, or the challenge of living life so close to the edge of death that kept me returning to Madagascar every year for five consecutive years. I couldn’t get enough.
Islands are very self-contained. Those who inhabit them, especially if poor, do not move far from where they were born. So, in 2001, when I finally returned to Madagascar as director of a study abroad program, I found again many of the people I knew from previous years: selling goods at the marketplaces, parking their taxis at the same stand, and begging on familiar street corners.
But despite the familiarity, things had changed. Madagascar was besieged by an aesthetic influenced from an emerging global economy. The Madagascar I returned to in 2001 was full of visual anomalies that had either not been there or not been evident to me in previous years.
The black-and-white scenes I so reflexively captured in previous years no longer materialized in my viewfinder. What I now saw needed the deception of color and the static nature of medium-format to capture what had emerged: namely, the irony and illusion of Madagascar’s infiltrating consumerism and the isolation I sensed because of it.
Editor’s Note: This project was chosen by Picture Editor for The Guardian Weekend Magazine, Caroline Hunter, as her Juror’s Pick for the LensCulture Street Photography Awards 2017.
Here is what Caroline had to say about Levy’s work:
“I felt the tension in these images of Madagascar. The idea of the island being a dream tourist destination is undermined by the raw reality of daily life faced by its citizens. I liked the seemingly casual observations of consumerism and consumption, and the diverse mix of images in this set intrigued me.”
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