byAllicette Torres

March 2005, Melissa Catanese

There is something that has gone sadly awry with the American dream in the photographs of Melissa Catanese. Within their hung frames at the Sasha Wolf Gallery there seems to be a gut wrenching quiet infection brewing and simmering to the point of uncomfortably. The work emanates a quiet implosion that echoes the death of an age?the age of the industrial American superpower.

Eagle, 2005, Melissa Catanese

The exceptional cohesiveness of the grouping of the work allows the viewer to catapult into a clearly specific cinematographic narrative?bald eagle hanging sideways about to fall off the screen door of an old house, blurred American flags in the distance, oil silos dripping with rot and rust; while old American behemoth trucks linger motionless in driveways. The scream of a death knell can be deafening with the absence of humanity in it?s truest sense. There certainly are people in Ms. Catanese?s work, but they are impossible to reach with distances so far the only thing you can understand is that they are objects with human form, nothing more. In closer frames they all have their backs to the camera, almost in a hopeless indifference. And in the one frame that contains faces of actual people, is a photograph of pictures on a mantel, it depicts the existence of an unfulfilled promising past?a truncated dream deferred.

New Year\'s Eve 2005, Melissa Catanese

The forceful use of flash in the work adds another layer of dimension. The light cast under normal circumstance would be a type of blinding, illuminating light that pierces the most darkest recesses, but in the universe witnessed by Ms. Catanese, the light has no affect in changing the view other than to show, what is just beyond the dark confines of the frame. It?s effect is of trapped immobility.

I was severely impressed with the breadth of Ms. Catanese work, her ideations of the state of our ?small towns?, whether real or organized as such, exemplify one of the first well thought out points of view of the imploded America through the eyes of a current inheritor. It?s devolution and how we are grappling with this new ?second rate? superpower status. I had the pleasure of exchanging words about her work and she discussed with me some of her views further in detail.

Allicette Torres: There seems to be an ?impending doom? quality of your work. Is this purposeful, serendipity?a little of both? Why?

Melissa Catanese: It probably is a little bit of both. I?m quite consciously drawn to places that leave me unsettled, and in some cases, my photographs carry that response.

These environments, especially in Fieldwork, are not idyllic landscapes, but rather working class cities where I?m looking at a post-industrial landscape. It?s only natural to feel a dark undertone in these photographs because of the weight these places carry in our cultural history.

AT: Your work has a cinematographic quality, in some of your images you get the sense that the protagonist of the scene are just about to enter into the frame or just exited a second before the capture. What is happening in this universe you?ve created?

MC: Lewis Baltz describes photography as ?a narrow but deep area lying between the cinema and the novel.? This idea resonates profoundly with how I experience photography. It?s made more sense for me to put my pictures together in sequences as opposed to single images. When editing, I?m seeking that instant where associations arise between photographs, and for that energy to bounce back and forth. It always surprises me the different meanings, or impressions a photograph can leave me with when placed next to one another. It?s what assures me that a photograph lives and breathes.

I spend a great deal of time carefully editing my photographs, balancing ambiguities, associations, and disparities. I hope that a stream of consciousness within my work leaves me, and with any luck the viewer, with more of a feeling, or subtle impression of something happening. I think this mystery works best for me. It?s like listening to music in a foreign language and that moment when you?re overcome with a sensation where translation becomes irrelevant.

AT: There is a muffled and muted tone to your color and saturation, can you elaborate on your direction and purpose on this.

MC: I think it has much to do with the palette of the subject matter and the time and season the photograph was taken. It?s funny how this palette is probably so obvious to others, yet something so subconsciously embedded in the work for me. I?ve been told that the colors in my photographs have more in common with European photographers, like Jean-Marc Bustamante, but really couldn?t elaborate on the meaning other than aesthetic preference and a slant to a more natural rendering. But I don?t think this is always the case.

AT: Your perspective seems to be that of voyeur, what is compelling you to document as the invisible eye?

MC: Like many others who make pictures, I?m interested in photography?s relationship with reality and also how we situate ourselves and describe the world that surrounds us. I?ve been most influenced by the work of photographers who use the documentary mode and approach the world in a direct and transparent way.

Gerry Badger?s essay ?The Art that Hides Itself?Notes on Photography?s Quiet Genius? has been a serious manifesto for myself and many other photographers. In it, he describes a quality, which he calls ?thereness? as ?a sense of the subject?s reality, a heightened sense of its physicality, etched sharply into the image. It is a sense that we are looking at the world directly, without meditation. Or rather, that something other than a mere photographer is mediating.?

To me, the photographs that resonate the most are about ?seeing? and being there?the subjects tell their own stories, and this is the driving force in the work.

Melissa Catanese is represented by the Sasha Wolf Gallery.

Fieldwork will be up until January 10

Sasha Wolf Gallery
10 Leonard Street
NY 10013 New York
Phone: 212.925.0025

opening hours:
Tue- Sat 11-18

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