This collaboration by Thomas Mezzanotte and Marcella Kurowski was begun in response to a collection of hand painted tintypes that Mr Mezzanotte had accumulated over many years of searching flea markets and tag sales. These unique 19th century painted portraits were sometimes carefully crafted to beautiful effect but just as often the photographic image is crudely covered in ways that make them suitable candidates for the art of the grotesque. “They have an idiosyncratic quality that I’m very attracted to” Mr Mezzanotte says, “Most of the sellers do not even recognize that they are photographs, they usually give them up for the price of the frames they are in. They tell me to throw out the ‘bad paintings’ and use the frames for my work.”
Unlike most alternative process photographers Mr Mezzanotte is not content to replicate the appearance of 19th century images. When he began to do tintypes he wanted to repurpose the process to accommodate a vision that would have been impossible 150 years ago. At that time mimetic veracity as represented by photography was a profound revelation and the only qualities that seemed aesthetically and ideologically relevant in photographic imagery were ones that furthered that end. Many of the qualities that attract our admiration today, were seen at that time in a pejorative light.
While the techniques they use are 150 years old, the attitude of the work that Mezzanotte and Kurowski are doing is throughly modern. Mezzanotte the photographer, makes the aesthetic decisions while shooting the tintypes, while the painter, Ms Kurowski, has control when doing the over-painting. However collaborations are rarely that static, there is always a certain amount of give and take and that allows the work much of it’s vitality.
“I often create the masks that we use” Kurowski says, “I get an idea and build something out of copper or paper or whatever is around and bring it to the shoot with me. The purpose of the masks are to shield or distort the identity of the subject, this often also inspires new direction for the painting. When I finish a piece and show it to Thomas he’ll sometimes suggest that we reshoot and I add or subtract some elements or maybe go off in an entirely different direction. We each have ideas about how the other should do their job, this keeps the process engaging and allows for a natural, forward moving and ever-changing progression.”
Mezzanotte is an avid student of the history of photography yet he often sites literary references when pressed to explain the sources of his images. “My favorite author is the Argentinean Jorge Luis Borges. I find inspiration for my images in the ideas that reappear continually in his short stories and essays,” he says.
Citing 20th century art movements, Ms Kurowski is influenced by cubism and surrealism in particular. She works spontaneously and intuitively allowing the photograph and the marks that are common to the wet plate process, to guide her approach to the individual pieces. “I let the process used to create the tintype and the photographic image itself inspire the painting. The original tintype represents itself to me as a chance occurrence. I consciously alter it until I achieve a level of completion satisfactory to our collaboration.”