Massimo Cristaldi’s Touch Ground

Massimo Cristaldi recently submitted his wonderful project Touch Ground to us at dvafoto and today we are featuring this work and a short interview with him about his project.

In 2013 alone, over 40,000 migrants braved the Mediterranean Sea in an attempt to reach Italy (and Europe). Many of these migrants ended up in Sicily and the surrounding islands. The route was a familiar one, as thousands of these people have previously traveled this route in years past during previous attempts. In “Touch Ground,” I photographed beaches, harbors, cliffs—the places where, in recent years, migrants have first reached the shores of Europe from their original homes in North Africa. The photographs form an exploration of the idea of “Terra Firma”, a coveted place, object of hopes, tragedies, happiness, disillusion, and sometimes, death. – Massimo Cristaldi’s introduction to Touch Ground

Have you made any news reportage of the immigration story in Italy?
Not really “news” reportage in the sense that I like to come back to a place after the happenings. I believe there are too many screaming photos of desperate people on those “hope boats” and, as often happens, we’re becoming indifferent to those images as they’re part now of the usual way of telling this immigration story. I would like to suggest to people a perspective of the sea from those who are coming to Italy, but still also show the perspective of those who live close to the sea. The limit between sea and earth gets a completely differently meaning on the basis of where you look at it.

How did you come to take this approach to documenting this large and important story about immigration?
In 2009 in Lampedusa I was blown away by what was happening. The traces of the arrival of immigrants were everywhere. So I started a long process of documenting the beaches, shores and the places where immigrants arrived. And started to take photographs of those places where there were many events, often fatalities, happened.

Is there something specific about landscape images at night that helps to tell your story?
Night is often the moment when they arrive. Night can be scary and the lights of the towns you see finally from the sea could mean a lot for who is on those boats.

Do you have a personal relationship to any of the communities where these boats have landed? Or with the sea?
Yes I do. I had long conversations with many immigrants that arrived to try to understand what they are feeling when arriving. What are those trips, what is the experience. Those conversations improved my idea of working on this project. The sea, on another hand, is magical for me. I love it. I was born in a city on the sea (Catania) and swim a lot. For me feeling the sea from a different perspective was a great experience.

Bio:
Massimo Cristaldi was born in Catania, Italy in 1970. After receiving a degree in Geology, he began managing international research projects. Art is the environment he grew up in and photography is the way he set his creative side free. The driving concern of his work is focused on traces that man and time carve over nature and things, representing effects and signs on “what remains”, with a particular interest to the “metaphor of the borders” (see more in the artist statement). He was awarded in many international photography competitions such as the International Photography Awards, the B&W Spider Awards, the Photography Masters Cup, the Travel Photographers Of the Year and the Prix de Photographie de Paris. Massimo has exhibited in Europe and in the US, in solo and group shows and at photography festivals. He is represented by galleries in Belgium, France, UK and Italy. He lives and works both in Catania and Rome. Massimo’s photographs are part of the permanent collection of the George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, NY (USA).

Vermeer’s Camera Obscura

My mother recently sent me an interesting article in Vanity Fair magazine about Texas inventor Tim Jenison’s quest to prove that Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer used a camera obscura-based device to make his photorealistic paintings. Jenison’s experiments are the subject of a new documentary called Tim’s Vermeer produced and directed by the magicians Penn and Teller, which is now in limited release.




Tim Jenison, who had a career developing video editing and post-production software and hardware, endeavored to not only reproduce the apparatus he thinks Vermeer used – a camera obscura fitted with a handmade four-inch lens, a parabolic mirror and a smaller mirror to paint from – but to test his theory by painting a replica of The Music Lesson. This required building and sourcing a fully accurate set that mirrors the room in Delft, Netherlands that Vermeer depicted. The construction of the set in his San Antonio studio took over eight months and the painting took over 230 hours of work. It is worth noting that Jenison is an amateur painter, with no training prior to undertaking this project.

Jenison was inspired by earlier research that suggested that Vermeer might have used an optical device to assist in making his most famous paintings. The theories were based on analysis of the accurate depiction in Vermeer’s work of out of focus areas of the scene, the perfect reflections in a mirror and the proper display of the light values falling on the white wall in the painting The Music Lesson. These attributes of the paintings are claimed to not be possible without the assistance of an optical device, suggesting that the details Vermeer included in his work could not have been seen by the human eye alone or with the era’s understanding of the nature of light.

Other critics though are resisting these proposals, at least insomuch as they “oppose drastic devaluations of the role of art”, which Metropolitan Museum of Art curator of European paintings Walter Liedtke is quoted as saying in the Vanity Fair article. We’ll leave it to you to determine if these discoveries about how likely it was that Vermeer used new technology to create his art undermines the artistry and beauty of his work or if it strengthens his reputation as a master of the use of light.

Left, Tim Jenison, with part of the optical apparatus he created above him, at work in his San Antonio studio. Right, Vermeer’s The Music Lesson, the painting Jenison chose to re-create. From Vanity Fair article “Reverse-Engineering a Genius (Has a Vermeer Mystery Been Solved?)”

Nina White’s “Stay”

Nina White’s Stay is a personal story of a woman coming to terms with the realities of aging grandparents with ailing health. It is quiet and simply presented and we wanted to know more about the project and the photographer. Nina White kindly answered a few questions about her work. You can see a larger edit of this work, and other nice projects, on White’s website. “Stay” is also available as a hand-made book and is White’s preferred way of sharing these pictures, she illuminates why in the interview.

Where are you from? How did you come to be a photographer?

I am from Brisbane, Australia. I live in a rural area called Ocean View, on a mountain, which is about an hour away from Brisbane city. My initial interest in photography was actually sparked by my grandparents and some of their close friends. My grandfather always had a camera, which I constantly ‘borrowed’ whenever I got the opportunity. One holiday when I was about 8 years old some of their friends dropped off a huge stash of back issues of National Geographic to keep me out of trouble. It is terribly corny, but Nat Geo was the reason I got my first camera.

Did you grow up nearby to your grandparents?

Yes, my mother and I actually lived in the same house as my grandparents in Brisbane city until I was 6. We moved to the Ocean View property and into our ‘shed’ whilst my grandparents built a house just up the hill, on the same property. My entire life they have never been far away.

One of your other projects, Prodigious, also deals with the idea of family. Is this common in your work? Why?

Yes, I suppose family is a common thread within my work. The concept of a family unit, and the various different forms and functionalities that can be encompassed by the term ‘family’ has always fascinated me. Coming from a non-conventional family myself, I am interested by peoples usually private interactions within familial environments. Prodigious was actually driven by my absolute awe of the Duncan family, who I photographed for the project. I have known them for most of my life and find their lifestyle and bonds extraordinary. More so possibly because they an example of the polar opposite family structure to my personal experience.

When and where did Stay begin?

I began actively making Stay in July 2012. My grandfather was diagnosed with normal pressure hydrocephalus and we had began investigating the possibility of surgery for him. Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus is fluid on the brain – the cerebral fluid doesn’t flow and drain or regulate itself properly and slowly swamps the brain, reducing its overall functionality, it presents symptoms similar to dementia and so is often misdiagnosed in the elderly. Less than a week later my grandmother’s artificial hip broke through her pelvis, and she was hospitalised for emergency surgery. This was the beginning of 8 months of hospitalisation, surgery and rehabilitation for them both. The project really began at home, and ended at home.

Can you tell me more about the title?

It is a selfish plea really, from me to my grandparents.

And can you tell me more about the book you’ve made and why you chose that as your medium for showing the work?

I chose to present this work in a book format for a number of reasons. All my life I have seen books as an ‘escape’. In my experience they have the ability to engage a reader in a very different way to other forms of media. With such a personal work, I felt it was important that it was experienced one on one with the viewer, and was small and tender enough to hold in your hands. Another benefit of book format is the ability to control the narrative and rhythm of the work through the organisation of layouts and design. The book itself was entirely hand made by me and is completely unique. It was hand printed on photo-rag-matte double sided paper and the cover is cotton. The text within the book is all written in my handwriting, scanned and then reprinted. Hand-making the work was important to me, as it was really a labour of love, and I wanted to create a soft, tactile object a viewer could interact with, rather than just observe.