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An Essential Guide to The Work of Michael Massaia

An Exploration Through the Photography of Michael Massaia

Somers Place, In The Final Throes, NJ by Michael Massaia
Somers Place, In The Final Throes, NJ, Platinum Baryta Print, 16 x 20 in (40.64 x 50.8 cm)

Having worked with Michael Massaia almost since the beginning of his pursuits in photography I’m often asked about his practice and process as well as my justification for calling the work he does “unprecedented” in the history of photography.

There are five divergent areas of expertise employed by Michael Massaia,  and in evidence throughout his always expanding bodies of work.  First and foremost he’s an incessant conceptual artist driven by the desire to give birth to original ideas never before illustrated photographically.
Much can be gleaned from knowing that he does not relate to ” being ” a photographer.

Photography is the just the medium he employs to give life to the original ideas he’s constantly inspired to create. Paradoxically, he is a gifted technical photographer of the first order, exploiting his range of view cameras as large as 11×14, all allow tilt and swing lens movements critical to much of his work.

Through years of trial and error, he has perfected a bespoke chemical recipe for his in camera negatives so that his final prints display detail in both shadow and highlight areas. This, in spite of the fact that some of his exposures can last over an hour!

Now we add engineering to the skill set needed to create his high resolution contact printing negatives. Michael has effectively “frankensteined” three broken, software unsupported Scitex scanners from the mid Nineties, into one super scanner with spare parts.

And finally, all the ideas and work lead to the final print and back to his chemical expertise.  Seeing these luminous, hand wrought silver gelatin and platinum/palladium prints rendered with excruciating detail and otherworldly resolution is nothing short of mesmerizing.  Highlighted portions almost appear to be actually lit from within the print.  The trademark of a virtuoso monochrome photograph are shadows of deep black with detailed pure white highlights. Whether in mural sized platinum prints believed to be the largest ever made, or in silver gelatin prints with complex grays found previously only in a platinum print, both eye and mind are fully engaged.  His largest prints are not viewed; it seems that one can actually “enter” the photograph. Like much of the best art, they compel your immediate attention and continue to delight and unfold with repeated viewing.

Tom Gramegna
Director, Gallery 270

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