Native New Jersey photographer Michael Massaia creates silvery, dreamlike renderings of his home state and neighbouring New York, taking pictures of landmarks and well-loved areas emptied in the dead of night. Many of the images have an eerie sense of stillness; his Seeing The Black Dog series captures a phenomenon that sleep-deprived truck drivers describe where they see hallucinatory black dogs on the highway and so know it’s time to pull over and rest. “The instant this decision is make is when I creep out of the shadows with my view camera and capture the moment the dogs melt away,” he tells Phaidon.
Another of Massaia’s projects, Deep In A Dream, saw the photographer roaming around Central Park in the small hours during a period in March just before the trees fully sprouted their leaves. Although he uses slow and cumbersome Platinum/ Palladium printing techniques, Massaia says that this doesn’t slow him down unduly as he tends to work quite “mechanically”. “One of the big reasons I do Platinum printing, and use large format film cameras, is I suppose a reaction to the gluttonous nature of what photography has become," he explains. "In many ways digital image capture has taken so much of the magic out of photography.”
In his artist statement, Massaia simply refers to Hebrews II, 13 - 16: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth."
Massaia explains that the verses depict people “walking through a world in which they don't feel connected, feeling as if they are never at home here. That lack of connection can be perceived as sad, but to me my work is about finding a connection that can only be found as a result of being disconnected.” And this cool, methodical detachment transpires in monochrome works characterised by an atmospheric emptiness.
A retrospective of his work is on show at New Jersey’s Gallery Two Seventy until September 25.