Michael Massaia’s Inverted Seascapes Provide Fresh Perspective

By Benazir Wehelie, Special to CNN

Updated 8:35 PM ET, Thu December 17, 2015

(CNN)When we think of the ocean and the sky, our minds often conjure up universal images of waves flowing together, of clouds moving across the blue vastness above us.

But Michael Massaia shows us something much different.

For his photo series “The Pull,” Massaia printed images of the ocean and the sky as they appeared — inverted and backward — on the ground glass of his large-format camera.

“I was searching for a way to present that type of subject in a new way,” Massaia said. “To reintroduce yourself to something you’ve been looking at for years and to see it in a whole new way.”

Massaia said shooting in black and white allowed him to capture “huge amounts of information” while producing a sense of timelessness. Because of this, his images are rich in both texture and meaning.

Photographer Michael Massaia
Photographer Michael Massaia

“When I first started looking at (the photos), when I first started printing them, it was very disorienting,” he said. “I would see constellations and I would see a roiling, turbulent sky. … The more I print them, the more I see them as a kind of design.”

The images were not exactly easy to capture, Massaia said. This is because of the chaotic conditions and uncontrollable nature of the seascapes. Not every shot resulted in meaningful shapes or abstractions, and it is this uncertainty and the process of discovery that Massaia especially enjoyed.

There is also an unseen artistry behind each and every image. Massaia said that before he takes photos, he sort of storyboards and draws his ideas about exactly what it is he hopes to capture with his camera. In a way, it is almost as though this photo series takes viewers into the depths of the photographer’s imagination — we see his drawings come to life.

“I can take this kind of really uncontrolled, crazy environment — the ocean — and basically get it exactly to match what I had in my mind,” Massaia said. “I would sit there and wait literally hours to get the right combination of wash on the sand and the right turbulence out on the sea.” Massaia’s fascination with the ocean and the sky stems from his younger days when he would spend a lot of time surfing throughout New Jersey. Massaia said he was always “petrified” of severe weather like tornadoes.

“I always was looking up at the sky and, especially with surfing, I was always checking wind conditions,” he said. “Because I was so freaked out by it, I forced myself to learn a lot about it.”

He observed how similar the ocean and the sky really are, noting how the two move in the same kind of way. That’s why when you flip them around, he said, it becomes hard to tell which is which.

Poetry permeates Massaia’s images, as we are made to confront and challenge our perceptions. By making the ordinary unordinary, Massaia reveals how there are always interesting patterns and details to be found even in the most familiar places.

“There’s a bit of a romantic kind of element in just the way I like to view things,” Massaia said. “It’s exciting to me when you can do something so simple as basically just inverting something, and it takes on this whole other life.”

Dusk, Seaside Heights, NJ, 2015 by Michael Massaia
Michael Massaia: Dusk, Seaside Heights, NJ, 2015, gold toned silver gelatin contact print, 30” x 40” in
Seaside Park, NJ, 2015 by Michael Massaia
Seaside Park, NJ, 2015, Gold Toned Silver Gelatin Contact Print, 22 × 28 in (55.9 x 71.1 cm), 30 × 40 in (76.2 x 101.6 cm), 40 × 60 in (101.6 x 152.4 cm)

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