As temperatures rise while we creep toward summer, the jingles of ice cream trucks will fill the air with their unmistakable, possibly racist melodies. But putting aside the politics of Popsicle music, we're left with the childhood memories—or even memories from last July—of going to town on a chocolate-dipped cone in a race against time, lest we be left with a sticky puddle instead of a frozen treat.
Photographer Michael Massaia is more interested in those puddles left behind by our fast-disintegrating sweets, which transform a cherry-flavored Hello Kitty bar into a moody, Rorschachian pastel ovum, or a friendly Spongebob Squarepants into a beautiful but demonic phantom with soulless black gumball eyes. His photographs are the perfect example of the ordinary being made extraordinary when seen through a different lens; something as ubiquitous as ice cream can be rendered into abstract forms that implement color to create moods in a sensibility not unlike that of Rothko.
A New Jersey-based, self-taught photographer and printmaker, Massaia has taken a bit of the departure from his usual subject matter—tinny, black and white captures of desolated theme parks and urban areas—for the ice cream series. But even within the world of frozen snacks, there is something dark and undefinable to be gleaned.
We spoke to Massaia to learn more about how he manages to make Neapolitan ice cream sandwiches so damn spooky.
MUNCHIES: Hi Michael. What kinds of images are you most attracted to, generally? It seems like the ice cream photos are a change-up in terms of your body of work. Michael Massaia: I'm not really attracted to any specific images. I'm guided by ideas (hopefully original ideas), and the process of trying to realize those ideas in print. Aesthetically, the [ice cream] images are a bit of a departure, but from a conceptual point of view, the process was the same as all my other portfolios. [Have an] idea first, then figure out a way to execute the idea.
What was the inspiration for your melted ice cream series? I was searching for something that would all at once be a visual analogue for my childhood experience, which at times was filled with a tremendous amount of confusion and distortion. I also wanted there to be a strong feeling of rediscovery. During the melting process, I felt as if I was seeing something for the first time, which is also a very "child-like" feeling.
What was your artistic process like when setting up the photos? I first had to find the correct ice cream pops that would melt and transform in a way that I felt was intriguing to me. Once I had a large arsenal of pops that I knew would accomplish this, I would simply place the ice pop on a black sheet of plexiglass that was slightly tilted backward, so the melt would run away from the stick. I would allow them to melt naturally at room temperature. It would usually take about an hour for them to get going. Once the melt started to form interesting patterns, I would open the shutter on either a large format film camera, or a medium format digital camera, and capture the transformation using long exposures. I would also, on occasion, tilt the plexi at different angles to intensify the mix of colors. I used only room lighting.
Is there something macabre in the idea of melted ice cream? Yes, and I think like most things that are deteriorating, and departing, there is always something beautiful happening under the surface.
Which of the images is your favorite? I liked finding characters where their face almost looks as if they're fighting and angry about the melting process. I think the Batman and the Sonic the Hedgehog pops are the best example of that.
Would you consider doing more food-related series? I try to go wherever my ideas take me, and if food can accomplish in conveying some sort of emotional trigger in me then I will use it again.
Thanks for talking with us.