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Interview & Portfolio: Rita Maas – 20th Century Plastics


photo-eye Gallery Interview & Portfolio: Rita Maas – 20th Century Plastics photo-eye gallery is pleased to announce a new portfolio titled 20th Century Plastics by Photographer’s Showcase artist Rita Maas. In this project, Maas images the consequence of time and atmosphere on photographic film – presenting the evidence of an object, image, and moment reduced to an abstract color field. photo-eye Gallery's Lucas Shaffer asked Maas to tell us more about this series.
Untitled 14.05 (1989 - 2014)  – Rita Maas

photo-eye gallery is pleased to announce a new portfolio titled 20th Century Plastics by Photographer’s Showcase artist Rita Maas. In this project, Maas images the consequence of time and atmosphere on photographic film – presenting the evidence of an object, image, and moment reduced to an abstract color field. These vibrant plastic windows, reminiscent of stained glass, serve as statements about photography’s ephemeral nature, an elegy for its chemical history, and perhaps hope for its future. All prints are produced with archival pigments on cotton rag paper, and come in three editioned sizes.

photo-eye Gallery's Lucas Shaffer asked Maas to tell us more about this series.
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Lucas Shaffer:     Tell us a little about 20th Century Plastics; how did the project come about?

Rita Maas:     For over twenty years I have worked as a commercial photographer shooting still life, food and beverage for numerous editorial and advertising clients. During the early part of this career I shot thousands of large and medium format transparencies. Over the years I moved my studio five times, each time relocating the quickly accumulating boxes of film. At a certain point I just no longer had room for them in my studio and transported them to my home just north of New York City. There they sat on floor of my garage in a growing pile of boxes for countless years. As the seasons came and went the boxes were exposed to moisture, mold and freezing temperatures.
Untitled 14.07 (1989 - 2014) – Rita Maas

The majority of the chromes miraculously survived without a problem but there was one box with the weight of all the others on top of it at the bottom of the pile that soaked up ground seepage. While the garage never flooded severely, a heavy rain would leave behind puddles of water. About two years ago I moved the boxes to higher ground. When I picked up the bottom box it literally disintegrated in my hands, spilling out hundreds of chromes onto the floor. I considered throwing them out (they really have a disgusting odor) but instead shoved them in a plastic bag and put them in a cupboard to be forgotten for another two years. This past spring I was cleaning the garage and came across them again. Their decayed beauty fascinated me. My work had been taking a turn towards the investigation of materials and processes and this seemed to fit into the realm of that concern. As we watch these materials gradually fade from use and production I found it interesting that these, while transformed in their appearance, were still, in essence, dyes suspended in plastic.

LS:     What is the process you used to create these images?

RM:     I simply placed the transparencies on my old light box and photographed them using my Mamiya outfitted with a Phase One digital back. I chose to photograph them on the light box (instead of scanning them) because that is what I would have originally viewed them on. I also wanted the three dimensionality of them to become apparent as they curled and warped on the uneven surface of light. I then decided to edition the prints in three sizes, 11.25” x 14” (where the chromes are reproduced in their actual size,) 16”x 20” and 24”x 30”.

Untitled 14.06 (1989 - 2014) – Rita Maas

LS:     How does 20th Century Plastic relate to your previous bodies of work? Is it an extension or diversion from it?

RM:     My recent work has been involved in examining the space between abstract and representational depiction. We generally accept that a photograph is some representation of the world, a world that exists outside itself. My most recent investigations are towards the medium itself, its materials and its means of reproduction. I try to think about the potential of photography to do something other than create an illusion of reality outside itself. For me, what the image depicts becomes less important than what it reveals about the nature of the medium. My attention is focused on the interplay between image, materials and process and with the hope of stretching the definition of photography. I seek to make visible photography's particular conditions of representation.

Untitled 14.14 (1989 - 2014) – Rita Maas
I would argue that even my earlier still life work falls within this concern. My eye was then fixed on how the optics of the camera transcribes actual space into photographic space. I feel that the notion of the impermanence of all things, whether conscientiously or unconsciously, is what makes photographic images so special and precious to us. We know nothing lasts forever so the ability to have a reference to a specific moment is special.

I often wonder if the fact that we live in a culture that is changing so rapidly is what is fueling our appetite to record and share, that under it all is the knowledge or anxiety that all things must change.

LS:     That’s an intriguing idea, and we as a society certainly take more pictures than ever, but I see this work as more of an example of the camera’s failure to preserve. Is that a part of what you are saying?


Untitled 14.17 (1989 - 2014) – Rita Maas
RM:    These images, for me, refer to the limitations of photography to preserve whatever it is
we think we are preserving with it. Our general way of thinking of a photograph is as a reference to an event, person or object, providing us with a materialization of time and memory. This project, for me, points to the futility of this concept. I see these images as an acknowledgement of the impermanence of all things. In that acknowledgement I do not overly mourn or romanticize their loss. It is simply the nature of all things.

I see these images as relics of 20th Century photographic practices. They are dated as the date of first exposure and 2014, as in 1989-2014. I do this to illuminate the importance time and era have in the creation of these pictures.

I also feel it is important to remember that originally these images were commissioned for consumption — usually to illustrate a magazine story. They were edited, placed in layouts, printed, delivered to the consumer, read and then (hopefully) placed in the recycle bin. They were not meant to have longevity. They were disposable. The idea that they now are allowed to have a refreshed and entirely new presence is rewarding.

Untitled 14.06 (1989 - 2014) – Rita Maas

View the complete 20th Century Plastics portfolio

View other portfolios from Rita Maas

For more information or to purchase a print, please contact Anne Kelly 505-988-5150 x121 or anne@photoeye.com

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