It’s difficult to label the type of artist Matthew Albanese is. His work centers around the construction of meticulously detailed miniatures made from found objects and simple household materials, including spice and food. Albanese often spends weeks searching for materials for his dioramas, including elements that aren’t intended to be permanent but, rather, deteriorate over time. While some portions of his created environments are recycled in later compositions, many others are destroyed during the photographic process.
Albanese was born in northern New Jersey in 1983 and spent a peripatetic childhood moving between New Jersey and upstate New York. He received his BFA in Photography from the SUNY Purchase School of Art and Design in 2005, after which he worked as a fashion product photographer specializing in bags, shoes, and accessories. In 2008, a spilled canister of paprika reminded him of the surface of the planet Mars, which inspired him to create his first miniature landscape. By manipulating the scale, lighting, depth of field, and color balance in each image, Albanese, as the New York Times wrote in 2011, has become “adept at coaxing humble materials into looking like something else.”
Albanese experiments with texture, color, and pattern, but most importantly with the way his materials react to light. While most aspects of these emotive landscapes are painstakingly preplanned, Albanese’s process always also includes a period of trial and error, during which he makes the small but crucial discoveries that transform his stage sets into trompe l’oeil landscapes that possess an uncanny vividity. Albanese’s beautiful, often haunting images have been exhibited at the Museum of Art and Design of New York, as well as the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, the Winkleman Gallery, MUba (Musée des Beaux Arts) in Tourcoing, France, and the Galeria Civica Cavour in Padova, Italy. Currently, he is represented by Benrubi Gallery, founded in 1987 by the late Bonni Benrubi, one of the leading photography galleries in the United States with a focus on 20th Century and contemporary works.
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As we said at the beginning, it’s difficult to label the type of artist Albanese is. Certainly he is partly a dioramist and partly a dioramist in the box dioramist school who build dioramas inside boxes to better control the lighting of the dioramar scene. The founder of the box diorama form was Shep Paine. Yet most of his dioramas are outside boxes and spread on tables inside his studio. And too, his dioramas are often destroyed once they have served their purpose of creating that one special photo. He is pertly a miniaturist working on a miniature scale. Mostly, he is a photographer. In some ways along the lines of Lori Nix and Kathleen Gerber who create many apocalyptic scenes to photograph. In some ways, his art resembles the staged photographs genre of set-up photos like the work of Gregory Crewdson.
Perhaps the best explanation of the type of artist Albanese is comes from a statement of the artist himself. “My obsession with miniatures began at a young age. Playing with toys, action figures, and miniature replicas was an early vehicle to unlocking my imagination. It always seemed to me that the miniature was the most effective solution to experiencing visions of worlds and new perspectives that otherwise could not be achieved in life. As a photographer my dioramas are simply a means to an end. They give me the ultimate ability to control my environments while satisfying a need to simply work with my hands. I approach my work with a final vision of a photographic landscape. Capturing moments of atmosphere, light, and perspective, my images become an orchestrated series of miniature events that culminate through the lens of my camera, deceptively evoking the sublime forces of Mother Nature.”
The key part of his above statement is that the miniature method “was the most effective solution to experiencing visions of worlds and new perspectives that otherwise could not be achieved in life.” In other words, these miniatures were not undertaken as an ends in themselves but rather as a “solution” for his visions that could not be achieved through other methods.
Perhaps one of the main things that distinguished the work of Albanese from other visionary photographers like Lori Nix and Gregory Crewdson is that Albanese’s small worlds do not contain people. Rather, many of them are studies of intense weather phenomena like tornadoes, fires, wind, water, ice and sand. One of my favorites is his homage to the old Route 66 and its southwestern through the barren deserts.
This is not our first post on Matthew Albanese. See our 2018 post “The Illusionist” showing more of his work.
Buy the book Strange Worlds by Matthew ALbanese
Lazy Dog Press 2013 / Milan
Buy the book on Amazon (But a ridiculous price)
Contact the Benrubi Gallery