ALTITUDE: A REVIEW
BY DOUGLAS P. CLEMENT
There has always been a symbiotic tension between the micro and macro in science, religion and philosophy-and in the debate about whether life's beauty and profundity are most powerfully distilled by artists and writers through an expansive view, or by casting the intimate, and the details, as reflections of universality.
The right answer is surely both in equal measures, but it's difficult not to side with the big-picture thinkers while viewing the exhibit ALTITUDE, a suite of aerial photographs by Peter Massini on view through February 28 at The Lionheart Gallery in Pound Ridge, N.Y.
Massini makes a living as the principal of Big City Aerial Photography, based in New York City, shooting through the open door of a helicopter. His work for clients such as Adidas, including aerial views of the New York City Marathon, the Arthur Ashe Tennis Center and professional baseball stadiums, is dramatic but not unexpected.
The fine art images in ALTITUDE present a perspective far different than reflecting the majesty and magnitude of professional sports. In these images the artist in Massini takes over, editing a panoramic expanse of visual data to put a digital frame around the excerpt that tells the story, while also creating an advanced pattern language of existence-both natural and manmade.
Angleback is a cool, detached nightscape of Manhattan, presented as an organic algorithm of white lights and black voids, flashes of buoyant illumination floating in a sea of potential loneliness.
Autounion records neat rows of new cars lined up like Chiclets in a parking lot, identically clad in protective white wrappers, with occasional gaps of one or two cars that have gone on to fulfill their destiny. The message? So much for our grand nations of individuality, perhaps.
Those who gravitate toward formalism will find a standout work in Rolling Stock, a view of silver roil cars idled on sidings. Even at rest they embody a sensation of syncopation; you almost hear the clacking of the metal wheels, the squeal of pneumatic air brakes. This phantom movement prompts speculation about where the rail cars have been and what's next-but that's not the real power of the image. An exaltation of form, pattern, presence and voids, Rolling Stock is like a symbol in a past-modern hieroglyph, a mysterious code that inhabits a level below conscious thought like subway cars race along unseen in carefully choreographed fury under the streets of Manhattan.
"I think we use patterns to provide some sort of order in a world of disorder," Massini has said. "I believe a lot of art, music, science and math is an arrangement of patterns made to help us with our need for organization, amusement, and the need to learn."
Massini's gallery show checks in at just a dozen works, but each packs enough artistry and presence to demand careful consideration, and invites lingering to let the mind catch up with the masterfully curated visual cues of larger meaning in each photograph.
Flyway (seen above) portrays highway infrastructure just north of the Bunker Hill Bridge in Boston. Massini calls the image "an extraction," a process in which he finds a composition among urban chaos and turns it into something else.
In effecting this transmutation, some of Massini's images reference the famous Nazca Lines and geoglyphs in the Peruvian desert, the ancient symbols (500 B.C. to 500 A.D.) that form recognizable shapes only when viewed from high above. It's been speculated that the Nazca people created the symbols to communicate with their gods.
While the enigmatic South American glyphs depict living creatures, stylized plants and geometric figures, Massini's photographs Merge and lnfrachange make visual poetry with excerpts of intersecting roadways and highway interchanges. Native ancient patterns that reflected some lost clarity of purpose have begotten contemporary patterns that bespeak our tendency toward ceaseless, often meaningless, movement around a Cat's Cradle of land tattooed by asphalt and concrete.
Fortunately it's just this type of roadway infrastructure that eases the journey to The Lionheart Gallery to see Peter Massini's terrific aerial photographs.
Douglas P. Clement is an award-winning journalist and editor who has written about arts & culture for The New York Times, Take magazine and other publications.