Photo L.A. 2020

The 21st Century Handmade Photograph:
120 Years of Silver Gelatin Prints

This show made its debut at Photo LA. June 27-28 2020

To view the show on Artsy, click here.

We thought it fitting for the first ‘virtual’ photography fair, for Gallery 270’s “booth” at Photo L.A. to showcase a venerable, long lasting print type that had its origins and first popularity in the late 19th C, grew to almost universal use in the 20th C and bridged the transition to the 21st C, the silver gelatin print! Featuring the work of 4 artists in 32 silver gelatin prints we aim to show the breadth of expression and the development of imagery beginning at the dawn of the 20th C, through its heyday and to the present day. We pay special tribute to the rarest photographers, creative and formidable behind the camera and unsurpassed craftsmen of the fine print in the darkroom. Makers whose attention to crafting luminous fine prints encompassing the full tonal range from highlights with pure, detailed whites balanced by rich, black shadows replete with layers of dark print detail. Artist Michael Massaia takes silver printing in the 21st Century to a new universe of subtle blues, greens, magentas, and warm tones with multi toning and tinting.

Edward Steichen 1879-1973

A photo must represent, partake, suggest or reflect the object photographed, but it is not a work of art because it does either or all of these. It must be alive and as a photograph have an existence of its own” -Edward Steichen

“A scientist and a speculative philosopher stands back of Steichen’s best pictures. They will not yield their meaning and essence on the first look or the thousandth — which is the test of masterpieces” -Carl Sandburg

“The greatest photographer of his time” -Auguste Rodin

Edward Steichen began his interest in art by drawing and painting as teenager, but an early fascination with photography led him to his extraordinarily successful career; one of the very first acclaimed photographic “artists”. He made masterful early photographs combining a pictorial painter’s sensibility by handcrafting multilayered gum bichromate and platinum/palladium prints of astonishing beauty and timelessness. In route to Paris from Milwaukee at age 21 to further his painting studies, he made a wise stop in New York to meet “art” photography’s top tastemaker, Alfred Steiglitz, who immediately purchased three of his prints. This was an auspicious beginning to a rich, long lasting, collaborative association. Due to his great success as a photographer, even early on, Steichen employed a series of skillful photographic print makers responsible for production of his photographic prints.

Upon returning from Paris, Steichen set up a portrait studio at 291 Fifth Avenue. In a space that he later redesigned for Alfred Steiglitz as the celebrated and influential Gallery “291”, it became renowned for simultaneously exhibiting the work of finest art photographers alongside the painters and sculptors of the European avant garde recommended by Steichen. Among the select group of artists who made their US debut at Gallery 291 were Picasso, Matisse, Rodin and Brancusi (all at the time unknown in America). By deliberately exhibiting the finest new painting and sculpture along with the best art photography, Gallery 291 gave the new art photography medium equal importance and stature that it had not previously known.

In 1902, Stieglitz, with Steichen as a founding member, formed a loosely knit group of photographers called the Photo-Secession, that he promoted, exhibited and published for fourteen years in his new luxe art journal, Camera Work. Through its legendary run, both Steichen’s photography and painting were regularly featured in nearly a third of its fifty issues and in seventy gravures including the 1906 “Special Steichen Supplement” and the Steichen-only double issue of 1913; no other artist appeared as frequently or prominently in Camera Work.

Steichen’s reputation as the seminal fashion and celebrity photographer is largely due to his decade and a half spent at the Condé Nast publications Vogue and Vanity Fair beginning in 1923. Steichen closed his New York studio in 1938 and embarked upon a new, more spontaneous photographic phase. During WWII, he joined the Navy to head up a unit of photographers. He won an Academy Award in 1945 for his documentary about the Pacific naval war, The Fighting Lady. Two years later, he was appointed the director of photography at MOMA in NYC . In 1955, he put together “The Family of Man”, a groundbreaking 500 photo exhibition that traveled the world. It was seen by more than 9 million people with more than 4 million books sold; it’s been permanently displayed in Luxembourg, the country of his birth, since 1994.

Edward Steichen and George Tice first met as a result of the 1959 Tice photograph, “Explosion Aboard the USS Wasp”, which made the front page of The New York Times. Steichen acquired the photograph for MOMA in his capacity as Director of Photographs. Quickly recognizing Tice’s printing virtuosity, he hired the young man who’d put his masterful printing skills to the task for his legacy project, the Steichen Portfolio. When Steichen passed in 1973, George Tice continued making prints for Steichen’s widow, Joanna who had plans for a few large projects that continued the need for his printing expertise. He produced prints for her book “Steichen’s Legacy” released in 2000, as well as the big Steichen Retrospective at The Whitney Museum that same year. As a partial payment for his printing services, Tice was permitted by Joanna to make two 8×10 prints from a group of his negatives in the late 1990’s, the final prints ever to be made directly from these negatives, before the entire Steichen archive was donated to the George Eastman Museum. These prints link these two photographers with lifelong careers and and the embodiment of those rare ones who were equally comfortable and skilled in the dual arts of both the taking and making of a photograph.

Charlie Chaplin, Hat Trick #1,#2 & #4, 1931 by Edward Steichen
Edward Steichen: Charlie Chaplin, Hat Trick #1,#2 & #4, 1931, toned silver gelatin print, printed, signed late 90’s by George Tice, 10” x 24” in

Leonard Freed 1930-2006

“When I photograph, I am always relating things to one another. Photography shows the connections between things, how they relate…Photographing is an emotional thing, a graceful thing. Photography allows me to wander with a purpose.” – Leonard Freed

Leonard Freed received early encouragement from Edward Steichen, who purchased three of his photographs as Director of MOMA, telling him he was one of the best young photographers he had seen. Even at the start of his career, Leonard Freed was a passionate man with an insatiable curiosity about the human condition. His imagery is imbued with his enduring excitement about discovering another piece of the puzzle in the question of human existence. He learned about life and fell in love with humanity as an active participant in it, traveling the globe to experience life from many perspectives, always open to learn something new. On the journey, he honed perceptive skills to a recognizable signature style. “I’m more involved with the people in the world around me and their relationship to the world around them…the photos I take don’t come from the camera, but from me”.

Leonard Freed received early encouragement from Edward Steichen, who purchased three of his photographs as Director of MOMA, telling him he was one of the best young photographers he had seen. Even at the start of his career, Leonard Freed was a passionate man with an insatiable curiosity about the human condition. His imagery is imbued with his enduring excitement about discovering another piece of the puzzle in the question of human existence. He learned about life and fell in love with humanity as an active participant in it, traveling the globe to experience life from many perspectives, always open to learn something new. On the journey, he honed perceptive skills to a recognizable signature style. “I’m more involved with the people in the world around me and their relationship to the world around them…the photos I take don’t come from the camera, but from me”.

And when Freed decided to take on a project he was thoughtful, deliberate, obsessive; never believing a single photograph could be relied upon to reveal the full truth. He yearned to tell a more complete story about those whose lives he chose to elevate and illuminate through his photography. Among his most beloved, moving projects were about the Civil Rights Movement, police work, the Jews , the Germans, the Dutch and the Italians; all were his means to develop artistically and also gain a deeper understanding of them and himself. He felt a carefully considered body of work, added to over time reveals a more substantial truth, a true story. Freed believed “You can only reach greater depth and make a personal statement once you have found your style. I think of myself as a humanist”.

Freed’s work delights with both humor and profundity and pulls at the heart with deeply felt human emotion because in his words “There are two important elements for me in photography:time and truth. Time is sealed as it were. Photos cannot be repeated. They are set forever in a moment of time. Truth is what we are all seeking in art”.

Almost all Leonard Freed signed prints are rare, he passed away in 2006 and throughout his lifetime were never printed in large quantities. His wife Brigitte, who was his darkroom printer during his life, runs the Freed archive. She tirelessly carries on his work, inspects and signs all the modern estate authorized prints, made just as they were made during his lifetime, luminous handmade toned silver gelatin darkroom prints of superior quality.

George Tice – b 1937

“It takes the passage of time before an image of a commonplace subject can be assessed. The great difficulty of what I attempt is seeing beyond the moment; the everydayness of life gets in the way of the eternal.” -George Tice

”Truly a great artist, and someone whose name will live forever in the history of photography, like Walker Evans.” -Ellen Handy

“New Jersey’s photographer laureate” -Peter Bunnell

GEORGE TICE was born in 1938 in Newark, NJ, the state in which his ancestors had lived for nine generations earlier. He joined a camera club when he was fourteen, and is largely a self taught photographer. Two years later, when his picture of an alleyway was commended by a pro photographer critiquing club members’ work, Tice was off and running with what would become his life’s work. Tice studied commercial photography for a short time at Newark Vocational and Technical High School then decided to join the Navy. After, he worked as a traveling portrait photographer for almost 10 years.

In 1959, Edward Steichen, then director of photography at MOMA acquired Tice’s photo of an explosion aboard the USS Wasp for the museum. Later Tice aided Lee Witkin in establishing the seminal Witkin Gallery in NYC, one of the earliest devoted entirely to photography. His work was included in the opening group show in 1969 and the first of many solo shows there began the following April. George’s change to larger format cameras in the 60’s furthered his ability to craft carefully toned and detailed prints. He portrayed traditional Amish and Shaker communities, as well as the hard lives of fishermen in Maine. In the 1970’s, Tice began explore his native NJ and began to document the vestiges of American culture on the verge of extinction, the work he is best known for. Whether it is the rural people who reside in small communities or suburban buildings and neighborhoods in decline, his great talent is finding deep meaning and emotional content in the most mundane subjects.

In 1972, Tice was the subject of a one-man show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; a rare occurrence at the time for a photographer to be given a solo show there. A fellow of the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, George Tice’s work is included in more than 80 major museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, as well as countless private collections. Some of his iconic New Jersey images form the scenic backdrop for Broadway’s “Jersey Boys”. Tice has long been a sought after teacher of photography and a master photographic printer who was commissioned to print the Edward Steichen portfolio. He has published more than 20 photography books, including Fields of Peace: A Pennsylvania German Album (1970), Paterson, New Jersey (1972), Seacoast Maine: People and Places (1973) expanded and updated in 2008, Urban Landscapes: A New Jersey Portrait (1975) expanded and updated in 2002, and Hometowns: An American Pilgrimage (1988), Seldom Seen (2013) and will soon complete Lifework, a large career retrospective. Tice received a Lucie award in 2015 for Lifetime Achievement in Photography. New Jersey’s”photographer laureate ”continues to live and work in New Jersey with daughters Jennifer and Lisa around the darkroom and studio to assist.

Almost all of the Tice catalog of images are available in artist made, open edition selenium toned silver gelatin prints in 8”x10”, 11”x14” and 16”x20”. Many are available as artist made, open edition 8”x10” platinum/palladium prints. A select few of some of the artist most iconic images are made as oversized limited edition platinum/palladium prints in 20”x24” and 28”x36” sizes.

Michael Massaia – b 1978

I’m simply chasing the ideas I have, and I’m trying everything I can to present them in original and graphically new ways. I don’t ever want to get caught up in the history of anything. While I have great appreciation for what other artists and photographers have done in the past, it ultimately is useless to me, because what excites me, is what hasn’t been done”. -Michael Massaia

“Michael Massaia is a true artisan, mixing his own chemicals, building his own cameras, making long, night-time exposures and producing incredible hand-made prints“. -Huffington Post

“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”. -CNN

“You fall in love and are lifted up by it. Michael Massaia expresses love most extraordinarily and vividly… He is a profound, contemplative artist of our times”. -Julian Spaulding

Michael Massaia is driven by the belief of the primacy of an original idea as the critical and pivotal element of creation in contemporary art. This is the stimulating factor and purpose behind the relentless pursuit of perfection in his photographic process in which he is the sole creator. Not fitting into the rigors of conventional education, Michael is completely self-taught in the conception, creation and execution of each step of the finished work. Judging by the large coherent body of work he has created in just over a decade, one expects to meet an old master, not someone born in 1978. While many photographers yearn to travel to distant corners of the earth to bring back startling images of people and places untouched by civilization, he upends our conventional ideas of photographic “exploration” by finding the extraordinary, hiding in plain sight near his doorstep. His photographs are always true “one shot” scenes whose images are never composited from multiple exposures. Michael’s twenty-nine published portfolios [almost all being continually updated and added to] are his attempt at finding a connection to things that most others would never think of looking at. Central to much of his art is a sense of loneliness and isolation. Michael works mostly with perspective correcting view cameras in 4×5, 5×7,8×10, 11×14 sizes, mounted on the sturdiest tripods to record all the precise details his meticulous prints demonstrate. Seeing these luminous, hand wrought prints rendered with excruciating detail and otherworldly resolution is nothing short of mesmerizing. Whether it’s his large scale multi-toned and tinted silver gelatin contact prints, his hand coated platinum/palladium or colorful pigment prints, both eye and mind are fully engaged. His prints, especially the 40×60’s are not viewed; 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. Gallery 270 is proud to have worked with Michael Massaia from his beginnings and to feature selections from five of his original portfolios for Photo L.A., each represents an original idea never before realized photographically.

1 – “Deep in a Dream II Central Park”

Michael Massaia has been methodically documenting every part of NYC’s Central Park and the transformation that occurs nightly there, since his beginnings as a photographer coping with his insomnia. From his first realized, deeply revered and still incandescent “Deep in a Dream, Central Park” landscape portfolio, the lure of its nightly isolation and vacancy, continually and magnetically pull the artist back to explore the park in its isolating and haunting moments. Massaia’s evolution as an unprecedented printer who stretches the dynamic range of silver printing in these latest “monochrome” prints that exhibit distinctively pastel colors through his unprecedented use of negative tinting, multi toning and hand tinting the final prints with the most delicate brushwork. The venerable silver gelatin print is taken to a another universe of subtle blues, greens, magentas, and warm tones in “Deep In A Dream II”, showcasing Massaia’s most recent nightly expeditions into the wilds of The Park.

2 -“Signals Crossed”

Back in 2014 at the crossroads of the world, Manhattan’s Times Square, saw the first rapid proliferation of the garishly bright LED billboard advertising on the face of every high rise building. What advertiser would think a few seconds of an ad captured photographically would portray not just their paid message, but reveal these images of the unseen and surreal lurking within their computer controlled message? One clearly sees phantasmagorical forms of waterfalls, cloud patterns and fireworks set against the realistic rendering of a still [or in the case of a taxi, moving] object amidst what appears to be a Dalinian landscape. The artist’s ability to render these as an ethereal hidden code, supplants the intended message of the medium and creates another body of work forever altering our perception and experience of reality. It must be said again that these images are all single shot unmanipulated view camera photography, shot on film and printed by the artist as toned silver gelatin contact prints.

Cohan Variations #1, Times Square, NYC, triptych, 2014 by Michael Massaia
Michael Massaia: Cohan Variations #1, Times Square, NYC, triptych, 2014, gold toned silver gelatin contact print, 40” x 97” in

3 – “Deep in a Dream/Sheep Meadow”-Vertical Abstracts

For an art photographer yearning to do compelling portraits, but bereft of the skills to charm, cajole and coax subjects to reveal themselves to his camera, these deeply intimate ‘portraits’ broadcast their purest selves in reverie, portraits in the truest sense, but unprecedented in their originality and graphic beauty. Another of Massaia’s ‘explorations of uncharted places’ by exploring the uncharted close at hand! This took the form of daily expeditions to Central Park’s Sheep Meadow, wearing a ‘cloak of invisibility’ by hiding in plain sight to find the impossible to pose pose. These human sculptures appear more otherworldly than any Amazon shaman or New Guinean headhunter from the pages of Salgado’s ‘Genesis’. It’s bewildering to learn these unposed figures lying in the Sheep Meadow of NYC’s Central Park, turned verticality from the horizontal plane they were taken in, are entirely unaware of the artist’s unerring gaze! It makes them beyond compelling as one gets lost in the elegantly rendered details down to the second hands of the subject’s watch, the strands of blond hair cascading gracefully off a back, or the chiaroscuro folds of a white pressed shirt. The ‘portraits” of the subjects in Deep In A Dream/Sheep Meadow- Vertical Abstracts are the antithesis of a snapshot. The perfection of figures that are at once eerily familiar and something never before seen. Some look as if they were taken from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, others appear as gorgeous ballet lifts and moves, frozen and transformed into sinuous sculptural forms.

4 – “The Pull”

Michael Massaia’s “The Pull” portfolio of inverted oceanscapes, are elegantly simple photographs; a visual meditation, if you will. Ethereal and enigmatic, tapping into the feelings of nature’s primordial forces, the images in this portfolio show the phenomena of what happens to the sky and the foreground when their orientation remains reversed, just as it’s seen on the view camera’s ground glass before capture! It’s so easy to get lost inside of the endless details of waves crashing and their trails returning to the sea. They embrace, beckon and “pull” you into them to experience the calm within the storm of movement they create. Reminiscent of the movies taken of surfers in the curl of the wave, everything around them moving, but with a certain calm equanimity present in the curl for a brief moment, that could be an eternity. Reminiscent of the ab-ex period in painting and Rothko in particular, this sublime beautiful work is all the more compelling since every photographer in history using a view camera to capture oceanscapes has seen this. They didn’t realize the resultant magical, mysterious drama of leaving the images oriented as composed on the camera’s ground glass!

5 – “Afterlife III”

Begun at the particularly dark period in March 2009, the original ‘Afterlife’ portfolio is a lasting document of the Jersey Shore’s amusement piers and attractions, devoid of human activity, shot mostly in the early morning hours, just before and after first light. Attractions seen by millions, but not ultimately seen: only though Massaia’s mind’s eye, choosing a view camera to correct perspective and adding an aura of hyper reality to these elaborate rides, names emblazoned, they now appear as dreamlike stage sets or opera scenery. The two portfolio ending, post Hurricane Sandy images of the Starjet Roller Coaster of the Casino Pier in the ocean and the Ferris Wheel of the Fun Time Pier unshackled from its foundation, are evidence that photography can transform reality, even the heart-breaking kind, into compelling works of art. In viewing these final images, a realistic depiction of post apocalyptic time is inescapable. The latest iteration is largely photographed further south in the towns of Wildwood , Atlantic City and Ocean City and taken during the off-season at their most vacant. Massaia has taken silver gelatin printing to almost “colorful” places unseen before by tinting negatives and finishing the prints by split toning with iron, gold and selenium. The sublime toning adds a ethereal visual twist that belies the vacancy and isolation permeating much of the imagery of Afterlife III.



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