They gathered at the back of the gallery space. It was a chilly night but they were there to talk about photography and see prints. Big prints made using platinum and precious metals. Gallery 270—20 miles from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan−had closed for the evening, but there was excitement in the air−a photographer was going to speak about his prints and they had a private meeting with him.
They pulled their chairs close and waited, enthralled with the creative possibilities of photography and the vision of this already legendary young man. He spoke gently about his photographs, his life in photography and his process...
Self taught and extremely well versed in the science of photography, Michael Massaia—thoughtful, confident and inventive—makes his photographs while most folks are asleep. Usually out with his camera between the hours of 2:00 am and 4:00 am (before the sun rises) most people attempting a creative endeavor would be trying to stay awake with coffee. Instead Massaia is wide-awake, solitary but not lonely, not far from home in Suburban New Jersey.
Massaia’s photographs are both formal and expressive, most often sharing a non-empathetic view of the subject matter in the photograph. It may surprise you to learn these photographs are not random—they are carefully planned well in advance, often drawn out on paper, consciously and meticulously designed before camera and film even get on location. These seemingly simple scenes are completely under the inventive control of the artist.
With a quiet willingness to speak about his work and his singularly different approach to making art, he is not a fan of ‘artspeak’ but he readily talks about his process. A true craftsman, he works alone in his studio and in the field. He is quite technical, mostly using 4×5″, 5×7″ and 8×10″ large format view cameras and sheet film to make his originals, and he just built an 11×14″ view camera from spare parts. Michael is heavily involved with making split toned silver gelatin prints, using gold and selenium toners. He uses an imagesetter to create high-resolution large format negatives for his platinum prints, many up to 32 x 42″ in size. Double coating his paper (Somerset Satin) gives him the beautiful rich warm tones and wide latitude seen in the prints. His platinum prints are among the largest in the world, with the greatest tonal range in the history of the medium. Here is part of our conversation with Michael Massaia.