Stories, Musings & The Vision Thing

Night Moves: Michael Massaia’s Dreamlike Images

Michael Massaia’s dreamlike images suggest a haunted, mysterious land…

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All photographs by Michael Massaia unless otherwise noted

Here, you are alone with your thoughts… drifting through a silent world…

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you sense the secrets… locked in the spaces around you…

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Still, this serene landscape seems so inviting… so much to discover….

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These images, conjured by Michael Massaia, are photographs captured late at night, when most of the world is deep in slumber. Roaming from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m., Michael takes to the streets, searching for that one perfect moment to freeze on film.

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Michael Massaia’s eerie, frozen moments are not digital files manipulated in photoshop. These photographs are produced the old fashioned way, taken with a large-format film camera and printed in a darkroom. Michael documents a world he discovers through his nightly wanderings. It all began in a most unusual way, as he explains in Arcspace.com:

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from Michael Massaia’s website

My interest in photography started as a result of going through long periods of insomnia (days and days at a time). I would commonly be up all night walking around and during this time it was suggested to me to start carrying around a camera to document my late night walks. I tend to have a bit of an obsessive mind, and as time went on, in addition to my photographs, I became consumed with many different printmaking techniques, modifying large format cameras, film development, and every aspect of how I could use photography to create an uncompromised vision. I’m completely self -taught.

I can see that almost-hallucinatory sense of insomnia infused in his photographs. His dreamlike images feel intimate and removed at the same time, like you’re standing in the middle of some strangely familiar landscape, yet you’re not sure where to head next.

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From ND Magazine:

I like the feeling of intense isolation. I try very hard to extract this from whatever it is I’m photographing. I find it very challenging to go into areas that are very populated and patiently wait for these moments to occur. I think I always try to capture the sense of “alone” but not “lonely”, in most of my work.

Still, his work reminds me of Edward Hopper‘s sense of elegant isolation,

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“Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper

Rene Magritte‘s witty surrealism

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“The Empire of Light” by Rene Magritte

and the wonderfully strange images captured by O. Winston Link in the mid-20th Century.

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“The Pelican Arives in Rural Retreat, Virginia” by O Winston Link

Michael Massaia’s work seems to hover at that crystalline moment separating the real from the imagined.

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His images suggest both solace and solitude, their artistry draws our focus to places unlikely to catch our attention in the bright light of day.

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From Photo Technique

I always see the scene/visualize the idea before I start working on a particular portfolio or print. Knowing “how and why” from a technical point of view is very important to me. I always aspire to leave nothing to chance. Surveying the area around you and picking up on that one thing that nobody has ever given a second look at, and then figuring out a way to visually present it as compelling, is extremely challenging and difficult.

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Before he brings out his bulky camera rig, he’ll typically search a location for several days to determine just the right spot to set his tripod. He plans carefully for that one exposure, that perfect dreamlike image, pre-visualizing everything beforehand.

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After he takes a photo with his large format camera, he develops and prints it by hand. He does things the old fashioned way – like Ansel Adams, he shoots film with a large format camera for maximum sharpness and detail and spends hours in the darkroom perfecting the image. It’s there the “magic” reveals itself, as he emphasizes areas of light and dark, interest and mystery.

You can learn about his technique and approach here and here. I’m fascinated by his artistic sensibility – he’s entirely self-taught and does everything himself. He feels working by hand, surmounting numerous technical and logistical challenges to capture that one perfect image, is what makes his work special.

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from Whitehot Magazine website

From Photo Technique:

I’m hard on myself. Failure is a constant that I try not to run from. I’ve learned that failure is truly a division line. It’s a line that some people simply can’t deal with crossing and as a result, the true potential of certain things is never fully realized. There is undeniable and uncomfortable truth in acknowledging personal failure. When it relates to the creative process, that acknowledgement can only act as upward momentum.

Here’s a short video about Michael:

His commitment to quality, to embrace failure as a precursor to success, has a message all of us can appreciate. I also like the elegant simplicity in his work. His best images invite you in to the mystery they seem to simultaneously hide and reveal. Looking at his photographs, I find myself pausing, like in a dream, imagining what I may find just down the path, around the corner, illuminated in the shadows. I love the sense of detail, mystery and frozen sensuality I find in his imagery. I see a stately elegance there too.

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I once worked for a charismatic leader who encouraged us with his motto, “Dare to Fail Greatly.” It was not only an inspiring experience, it was also liberating, and I did some of my best work with him. I think we can all learn something from Michael Massaia and his drive for perfection. Don’t be afraid to fail – you may never reach the limit of your talent and ability unless you push the envelope.

Does his work speak to you? What do you think? Leave a comment or email and let me know.

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1 Comment

  1. This is such inspiring work. I love the palpable feel of atmosphere in them. It’s such a great contrast to the linear aspects of the photos. Thanks again for bringing great work to our attention.

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