Interview with Michael Massaia
#1 Please introduce yourself:
My Name Is Michael Massaia. I’m a fine art photographer and printmaker from New Jersey.
#2 How did you get interested in photography?
I got interested in photography in a bit of an odd way. I sometimes go through long periods of time where I can’t sleep, an as a result of this I would go for long walks in the late night/early morning hours. During these periods, it was suggested to me to start taking a camera along with me to document my late night walks. As time went on, I became very serious about exploring every type of printing process, printing technique, as well as every film and camera type I could get my hands on. All of this experimentation led me to large format black and white photography, and large format platinum/palladium printing.
#3 Do you have an artistic/photographic background?
I’m completely self taught. I never went to college, nor did I ever study under anyone.
#4 Which artist/photographer inspired your art?
I’ve always been interested/gravitated toward the photographers who were also printmakers. People like Brett Weston, O.winston Link, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Irving Penn are a few of the photographers who I always felt were the complete package. By that I mean, they all seemed to have a very strong artistic vision coupled with a very high level of technical prowess.
#5 How much preparation do you put into taking a photograph? Are you planning every step or is it always spontaneous?
There is a large amount of preparation. I always imagine the idea/aesthetic/portfolio first, then I go out to the world and try to find the subject matter that matches to original, imagined idea. In may ways ,the portfolio is complete before I even take a picture. For me, coming up with original idea is the hard part, taking the picture is more the technical/grunt work part of the process.
#6 What fascinates you in places that you shoot?
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. Since all of my work focuses on the New York/New Jersey area, it can be very challenging to capture truly vacant moments.
#7 We can see your photographs only in black and white, why have you chosen to present them in this form?
I feel that black and white film has a timeless quality, but it also has real technical advantages for me(resolution, dynamic range, etc..). Black and white film has always given me the best starting point for my work. By using different developers/developing techniques, it is extremely user controllable, which in my opinion, allows for the photographer to develop his or her own voice in a much more personal way when compared to color film/photography.
#8 Could you please tell us something about your technique and creating process?
All of my work is shot using 8″x10″, and 4″x5″ monorail view cameras. All my images are from one negative. I do not composite multiple exposures. I use sinar p2 and f2 view cameras. I primarily use slight wide angle lenses for most of my work (240mm for 8″x10″, and 120 for “4×5”). But on occasion, for some of my portfolios, I will use severe wide angle lenses like the Schneider Super Angulon xl 47mm lens.
I shoot almost everything on tmax 100 sheet film. I develop all of my film in staining developers like PMK Pyro, but for some of my negatives, I use Xtol.
After the in-camera negative is developed, I then work on making a series of enlarged negative for my Platinum printing process. I will on occasion still use the in-camera negative for the final print, but because I primarily make larger platinum prints (22×30, 30×40, and larger), I have to make my enlarged negatives from the in-camera via an image setter, or a large format pigment printer. I do this by scanning the original negative using a Creo Scitex scanner, that I was able to fix and get running again. I prefer to use high end flat bed scanners like the Scitex over drum scanners because I don’t like oil mounting my negatives to the drum. The reason I prefer not to oil mount my negatives is because I use a non-hardening fixer for my negatives which makes them scratch very easily.
After the enlarged negatives are produced, I then start preparing the paper for the platinum process. I use many different types of paper for the process- everything from handmade French papers to machine made American papers. After I choose and prepare the correct paper for the particular image that I’m going to print, I then create a mixture of the platinum chemistry which consists of Platinum, Palladium, Ferric Oxalate, sometimes a bit of restrainer, and other additives depending on the situation. I apply the emulsion to the paper using a series of flat water color brushes. I will do multiple coatings. After the first series of coating are finished, the paper is then force dried and contact printed using either a Nuarc Mercury Vapor plate burner, or an Amergraph Metal Halide plate burner. During exposer, I will do a good deal of light dodging and burning using everything from acetate masks, ping pong paddles, and cut card board templates, etc.. Some of the dodging is done on the negative and some is during exposure. For some prints, where added density is required, the coating and exposure process is repeated multiple times. From the beginning to end of the process, I work alone without any outsourcing or assistance.
#9 Most of photographers have favorite light conditions, as well as time of day and season of year. When you are doing your photographs?
I take much of my pictures between the hours of 4am and 7am. The half hour period before the sun rises is my favorite light. I tend to take most of my pictures in April and May.
#10 Could you tell our readers how to reach such excellent results in photography?
A tremendous amount of work, and learning how to manage and cope with a huge amount of technical failure. I will commonly print for 100 hours a week and have nothing to show for it, but I find if you just keep pushing, you will eventually get to where you want to be.
#11 What do you do in your life besides photography?
Very Little, I work on this stuff 24/7.
#12 What future plans do you have? What projects would you like to accomplish?
My goal is always to look an a final print and to be able to say to myself- this is an exact analog of what was in my head. This rarely happens, but getting as close as I can to this, is what I consider to be my ultimate accomplishment in photography.
Michael Massaia Official Website: