Michael Massaia - Deep in a Dream: New York City at ClampArt
By Diana McClure
Glimmering large scale images of Central Park are an alluring draw at ClampArt gallery’s exhibition of black and white photographs by Michael Massaia. Immediately, upon viewing the work, visitors to the gallery will notice there is something more than just black and white, or shades of gray, happening in the images. In fact, split-toned gelatin silver contact prints, gold toned gelatin silver contact prints, and selenium toned gelatin silver contact prints await.
Despite the insertion of modern skyscrapers as background information in a handful of Massaia’s black and white series, a magical urban landscape emerges through the interplay of old New York architecture and lustrous Central Park landscape imagery. Using bridges and castle-like structures within the park to brilliant effect, the photographs offer empty fields of mysterious play through the use of majestic trees and winding paths that exit image frames toward the infinity of the imagination. Though the images lack people, they offer ample ground for the creation or remembrance of enticing tales that have been told, or are yet to be told, with Central Park as their backdrop.
Part of the reason for the storytelling capacity of Massaia’s images is the origins of their making. In Massaia’s early twenties, due to insomnia, he would travel to Manhattan late in the night for quiet walks and eventually began shooting Central Park in the wee hours of the morning, just before sunrise. In a sense, the works seem to convey the spaciousness of mind that perhaps Massaia tapped into while working in solitude on his elegantly crafted images.
In addition to the black and white work on view in the front half of ClampArt’s gallery space, the back half offers a completely different sensibility from Massaia. Sleepers and sunbathers in Central Park’s Sheep Meadow in daylight are dodged and burned in images that isolate them from the background of the park, creating an ethereal dreamlike quality. Together, the two bodies of work offer an interesting discourse on dream and reality.
Massaia’s penchant for subject matter that may seem to be ordinary or everyday material, alongside his skilled practice of large format photography and dexterity in an analog darkroom, are a reminder of the timeless beauty and innovation that can still be found in a classic photographic practice.
Michael Massaia: Deep in a Dream: New York City is on view at ClampArt through November 25, 2017.