Born in New Jersey in 1978, Michael Massaia Is a fine art photographer and printmaker whose work focuses on New York City, and New Jersey life and landscape. Massaia specializes in large format black & white photography and large format Platinum/Palladium printing. All of his images are true “one shot” candid scenes that have been pushed to their limit via film developing and printing techniques to reveal the true way each moment was felt. These photos are from his series, Afterlife, which he has spent the last few years working on.
How did you get into platinum and palladium printing? And how long did it take you to perfect this technique?
‘After exploring many different printing processes (both color and black & white), I found platinum printing to be the best fit for what I was trying to accomplish with my prints. I wanted to create a print I knew would last forever (a platinum print is a truly permanent print, which separates from almost all other photographic printing processes) and I wanted it to be a truly handmade process. It took me about three years of printing every week (a tremendous amount of failure) to come up with a technique that allowed for a rich and dense print’.
Can you briefly walk me through the process of making an image from start to finish? Why does it take up to two weeks to make a print?
‘Well, first, it all starts with capturing the image. I will usually spend a few days walking around the area prior to taking the images. I try to find areas I can sneak into where I won’t be noticed. I still only use large format black & white film because of its superior resolution and dynamic range (especially in highlights). I try to capture most of my images on days when there is little to no wind. I also prefer days that are overcast, so I can get more of an even tonality throughout the entire negative.
‘I never composite or combine multiple images. Every image is created using one shot/piece of film.
‘After the image is captured, I develop the negative so it’s fairly low contrast, so I keep that even tonality intact. I then have to create an enlarged negative from the original negative because a platinum print can only be made through a contact printing process.
‘No enlargers can be used, so your negative must be the size of your final print.
‘After I create a decent enlarged negative, I then start to work on the paper in which the print will be made on. Finding a good 100 percent rag paper to make a platinum print on can be tough because of the different acidity levels, and different sizing that varies from paper to paper.
‘After you’ve found a good batch of paper, you then have to mix your chemistry, which you will eventually have to hand-coat onto the paper using either a high quality paint brush or coating rod.
‘After I coat my paper (I do multiple coatings), the paper is forced dried using a print dryer and the enlarged negative is placed onto the platinum/palladium coated paper and then placed in a device called a vacuum frame which firmly presses the negative and paper together.
‘The print is then exposed, using a multi-spectrum metal halide lamp. Exposure usually takes 3-5 minutes. I do a large amount of “light dodging and burning” which is a common printmaking technique that allows you to selectively control the lighting throughout the entire print.
‘Some of this is done on the actual negative, and some is done while the print is being exposed. After the print is finished being exposed, it is developed in different developers, depending on the look you’re going for. After the print is developed, it then has to soak in a series of acid baths (hypo-clearing agent, citric acid, etc.) to remove the excess metal.
‘Finally, the print is washed for about an hour’.
Your latest series, Afterlife, documents the final days of Jersey Shore amusement parks. When is the best time generally to shoot these locations?
‘I always find that the early dawn is my favorite lighting.They are fairly difficult images to take because most of the images were taken on wooden piers that shake slightly every time the waves crash into it. Using large format cameras and long shutter times made it very frustrating at times to capture the images because of all the vibrations in the pier and on the boardwalk. I tried to take all the images during low tide to minimize the vibrations from the waves hitting the pier’.
Have you received any commercial inquiries or assignments due to your unique style and technique? Is this something you are actively exploring?
‘I’m so involved in the technical aspects of what I’m doing, and always attempting to think of the next idea, that I tend to forget to show people the work. I’m trying to get better at that’.