A lyrical, literary journey through cities along the Mediterranean Sea

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Massao Mascaro’s Sub Singular is ambitious in its far-reaching subject matter, weaving together narratives around “European culture, mythologies, southern Europe, and migration”

At only 31 years old, French-born, Brussels-based photographer Massao Mascaro has produced three projects that function individually, but additionally together when considered as “a Mediterranean triptych”. “The 3 works really taught me to be a photographer, to have severe doubts, but also to have self-confidence in the way I look at points, ” he reflects. Now, Sub Sole – his third project, made between 2017 and 2021 – is the subject of an exhibition at Fondation A Stichting in Brussels and a monograph published by Chose Commune.  

“Walking is an essential part of my process, ” he says. “It allows myself to activate a movement of thought, as if the constant search for balance that is walking – one foot on a lawn, then the other – makes me entirely porous and available for viewing the outside world. ” Mascaro works quickly in the field, making use of his medium-format camera – loaded with black-and-white film – to “accumulate photographs, such as fragments of memory”.

From Sub Single by Massao Mascaro, released by Chose Commune. © Massao Mascaro.

From Sub Sole by Massao Mascaro, published by Chose Commune. © Massao Mascaro.

With regard to Sub Sole , Mascaro spent nearly a month in each of the seven cities along the Mediterranean Sea: Ceuta, Naples, Palermo, Athens, Turki, Tunis, and Lampedusa. Their roadmap was based on Ulysses’ voyage in Homer’s world famous poem The Odyssey . “This founding myth seemed ideal for geographically exploring a wider Mediterranean sea, ” says Mascaro, directed out that they importantly navigate routes of contemporary migration.  

This interest in migration created during his first project, Ramo , in which he traveled towards the Southern Italian village where his grandparents lived before immigrating to Northern Italy. “Starting from the web of a loved ones story, ” Mascaro explains, “I encountered the web of a larger story: the Med one, the story of its numerous departures, of its real financial difficulties, of a peasant world on the decline, of a still archaic Calabria, of its young adults who, even today, flee the particular South to work in the North. ” Sub Sole is definitely ambitious in its far-reaching subject matter, nimbly alluding to plus weaving together narratives about “European culture, mythologies, southern Europe, and migration”.

From Sub Sole by Massao Mascaro, published simply by Chose Commune. © Massao Mascaro.

“The sun and the sea are the 2 protagonists of Sub Singular

From Sub Sole by Massao Mascaro, released by Chose Commune. © Massao Mascaro.

Mascaro takes a subtle method in this project, sequencing their lyrical pictures to suggestive – sometimes enigmatic  – effect. The distinctive lighting of the South “transfigures reality”, oscillating between illumination and obliteration, a tension tangible throughout the work. Walls, fencing, and obstructions, fragmented sea views, and plant life, surviving despite seemingly untenable conditions, appear repeatedly. These pictures contextualize Mascaro’s arresting portraits – often migrants close to his own age – that convey a dignity, even though vulnerability is also indelibly composed into their faces, awash in the Southern sun.  

“The sun and the sea… are the two protagonists of Subwoofer Sole , ” Mascaro asserts. “And I turn my back again completely to them, one simply by physical constraint (the sun), the other by artistic option (the sea). Which leads me to talk about the detour, which is fundamental in my work process. The detour is almost just like a poetic tool. You want to discuss something, but to talk about it, you choose never to directly show or mention it. In fact , it’s a kind of parable. ” 

Literature – from brief stories to theory – is important to Mascaro’s innovative process. “Reading allows me personally to nurture an creativity without filling it along with images, ” he describes. “That is, the work associated with image creation remains to be done. ” Diverse text messages related to the sun informed his picture-making in Sub Only, and also evident in the project’s book form.

“I experienced in mind the repetitive movement of waves, ” states Mascaro, discussing the book’s sequencing. “And, at the same time, the idea that each wave is unique. ” Sub Sole comprises 9 “short visual poems” that share an aesthetic feeling, but vary in tenor and number of images incorporated. Literary excerpts in different languages introduce each section, discretely integrated along the publication’s underside edges. “The text pieces act like compasses  – occasionally which direct, sometimes which deceive – so that a single does not get lost in too many photographs, ” he clarifies. The project’s title Sub Sole is itself the fragment, borrowed from the Latin Ecclesiastes 1: 10 , ‘nihil novi sub sole’: there is nothing new under the sun.

Part of the elegance of Sub Sole is normally Mascaro’s careful consideration of how each facet of the project – from conceptual underpinnings in order to physical materiality – phone calls attention to complicated topics without advancing positions or options. He remarks: “I love the idea that mythology is a probable answer when reason are not able to solve anything. There is not just one truth, and photography allows me to make the world more complex in my eyes, less cold and more fragile. ”

Allie Haeusslein

Allie Haeusslein is the Associate Director of Pier 24 Pictures in San Francisco. She is involved in all facets of the museum’s operations including curating displays and conceiving publications.

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