By ALISON ROWE | Special to the Palisadian-Post
At 17 years old, Felix Massey is already an accomplished photographer. An exhibition at The Edge in El Segundo, with his Palisades Charter High School classmates Amanda Saltz and Riley Byington, shows him confidently exploring the possibilities of the medium.
The son of artist Ed Massey, Felix got his first taste for photography when his father gave him an old camera in 2008. By 2010 he was taking it seriously, documenting his father’s famous public art piece “Summer of Color,” which mobilized 9,000 people to beautify lifeguard stations from Zuma to the South Bay.
It was not long before Massey started staging his own pieces.
Palisadian born and raised, the subjects for his photographs are drawn from his life in the town and its surroundings. He imbues what could be mundane scenes with drama and portent; an elderly lady paused on her way to post a letter on a night-time suburban street; a young gridiron warrior in the tunnel at Palisades Charter High School; an anonymous observer, coffee in one hand binoculars in the other, looking out from a faceless industrial building.
When asked how his work has changed since that first documentary phase, he said, “before, I was shooting beauty, but then I realized that, by telling a story, I could select the tone to tell it.” His photographs are clues to a narrative, which he hopes the viewer will investigate to bring the work to completion.
Massey acknowledged his visual influences as fellow Palisadian Steven Spielberg, Gregory Crewdson, Edward Hopper and Mark Tansey. All are artists who create elaborate worlds, often capturing feelings of isolation and alienation.
Massey stages his photographs with the precision of a director on set; sketching the desired finished result before the shoot, and arranging the models and crew in a planned schedule.
Working from a fixed tripod, he lights specific areas between each shot, stitching the multiples together in the final edit.
He is also supported by friends and fellow students from Pali High, who readily serve as crew on each other’s projects.
“We have a blast,” he said. He credited their teacher Rick Steil (“We call him Mr. Steil”), with creating the enthusiasm. “He inspires the whole class,” Massey explained.
Firmly in the digital world, though he is, Massey shares a series of his black and white original images, playing tribute to classic analogue photographers Robert Capa, Charles C. Ebbets and Joseph L Galloway, and showing that Steil is gifting his young charges with a solid background in art appreciation.
For some, the use of Photoshop is an anathema—for Massey’s generation, it is a given. He does not shy away from using the brush tool to paint in certain areas of the image, to increase contrast, or to mute, to achieve the effects he wants.
He takes on the mantle of the painter or graphic artist at will, sometimes printing on canvas to heighten the effect. He is not working in the tradition of Cartier-Bresson, looking for “the decisive moment.”
He and his classmates are proactive and busy creating their own decisive moments.
Their work will be on display at The Edge, 730-C S. Allied Way in El Segundo through Jan. 4, 2018.