Playboy.com staff & Stefanie Hanrahan
June 26th, 2012
I should have known.
It wasn’t the best idea to interview an artist the night of his gallery opening. Especially if that man happens to be the wildly talented and popular fine art photographer, MALTESTE.
MALTESTE, the man, is a contradiction. A man who could draw before he could walk, a photographer whose work is inspired by a painter, a man at ease with the digital platform yet incomparably moved by the beauty of nature, a man whose work evokes calmness and serenity, yet who has a nearly tangible intensity coiled tightly under the surface.
The same way his photos command the eye, so does the man behind them. As we work our way around the gallery, every step is interrupted by a handshake, a question and, more often, praise from one of his many admirers. I find it nearly impossible to concentrate on our conversation, but MALTESTE focuses on the interview at hand – attesting to his Herculean ability to concentrate.
His versatility is apparent, the photos themselves both classic and subjective. Each photo, different as they are, has one thread running between them: calm. And I can’t quite shake the juxtaposition of the adventurer in front of me, and his art.
“That calm is something I always want to have in my pictures. But these moments are extremely difficult to capture. This is where there is a fine line between a highly developed photo, where it’s technically perfect, and then the very fine line of a magic touch. The technical, that’s no problem, but the emotion in the picture, that’s something else. And that’s what I try to do.”
From a young age, MALTESTE’s passion for art was apparent, moving across all media: drawing, painting and sculpting. It wasn’t until he was an adult that he took an interest in photography (what he calls a sophisticated painting brush), his first internship helping his older brother build a darkroom. But his photography took a backseat when he felt parental pressure to attend university and make his way in business rather than art.
“My parents wanted me to go to university; I really pushed aside what I wanted to do in order to be more like everyone else, what my parents wanted me to do. They felt more secure if I went that route. So I went from very artistic to very businesslike.
“Because of that transition, that jump, I was able to learn other things. I had no order, there were papers everywhere. I had to become more organized, I had no choice, and that was good. I jumped from art to organization, then to photography, and it was helpful. Very helpful.”
MALTESTE’s attention to the intricacies of detail is undeniable. Inspired by Albert Bierstadt, Vincent Van Gogh and the 17th century Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer, MALTESTE’s work is an ode to the delicacy, colors and details of nature.
“Yes, I am inspired by painters and mostly by Vermeer. That has been a force out of this world. Vermeer is the type of painter; he painted lots and lots of detail in his work. He did not create that many paintings in his life. But what he did was absolutely stunning by today’s standards.
“On one particular painting there is a woman sitting in front of a window and behind her there is a big map of Europe. If you look closely, all the details are there, the writing, the shades, everything. The guy was a maniac for detail and that, really inspires me because that is what I’m trying to do with my photographs.
“Today, just like these painters, I am trying to recreate my reality, but with fine art photography. On some of my scenes, with long exposure, I am painting with light with my high-definition digital professional camera.”
Finally, MALTESTE leads me away from his gallery, from the throngs of people wanting to speak to him. We find a quiet corner where we aren’t interrupted. MALTESTE is a storyteller, visually and verbally. Each photo comes with an anecdote of where he was and how the picture came to be.
The beauty and otherworldliness of “Millennium Jewel” came after waiting in thigh-high water for three hours until the light was perfect. He scoffs when I ask him whether it’s frustrating [Above #1509].
“No. I’m never frustrated. And the reason is simple — I know what I want. I see the light changing, the colors. I see all of these in sequences and I wait because I know it’s coming. If it takes 20 minutes, that’s fine, an hour, okay. Three hours, I know it’s coming. And I’m there; what should I do, just be impatient and leave? That would be stupid. Between you and me, there is nothing bad to stay there for a couple of hours. You breathe through your nose, you relax.”
I know I must be driving him crazy. It’s impossible not to focus on the emotion his photos evoke; I think I have said “calm” and “serene” more times in one conversation than in the past 30 years.
A dog with a bone, I’m trying to get to the marrow.
What is it about a moment that grabs an artist? Is it the beauty of a situation or is he trying to evoke that emotion through different landscapes?
“It’s really the beauty and also it’s the emotion that the scene will bring in you. I’m able to see one picture that I took in the Laurentians and I thought this picture was serene. My wife said I should name it ‘Magical Forest.’ “It looks magical, like Harry Potter. I like that what I see, other people see as well. This is what I try to achieve so that any type of feelings you see in a picture, others see. We use the same words — we all agree and we all have the same feeling when looking at that picture. And that is when it becomes art.”
But art doesn’t come without a price; a physical one at that. Carrying over 65 pounds of equipment on his back, MALTESTE’s days start when some of ours end. At three A.M. he’s up and on his way to the latest location to wait for the light. And he waits, sometimes for hours.
“But then I scout some more. I make sure I capture what I was looking for and then I go to the hotel and sleep because I’m burned. And then my day is done. Because once the light is gone the beauty is finished. Next morning it’s the same thing. After three weeks of this I lose 5-8 pounds.”
MALTESTE has travelled extensively, visiting some of the most remote areas of the world. He has found the few untamed landscapes and brought them to the viewer, creating a mysterious and fantastical world in each photo. But when asked where his next adventure will be, the answer is surprising.
“I’m curious of many places. There are places that are beautiful but extremely touristic — and that’s fine. I like to see these places with my own eyes. But I also like to go to places that no one knows exist. I have pictures in the gallery shot in the provincial park of Quebec that few people have heard of. They have no idea the beauty they have in Quebec. Everywhere has those special places. It’s a gem. It happens in the Seychelles, in the U.S., in Africa. “But to answer your question, I am going to Zion National Park [in Utah]. I want to go there to capture the fall in the Southwest. I know it can be beautiful and I want to be there.”
If MALTESTE doesn’t seem concerned that he has a gallery of people waiting for his return, I am. But like his photos, he’s concentrated, committed to the moment before him. I have only one question left: “Now that you’re back, fully devoted to art, do you feel like you’re home?”
“You know, when you are your true self, life becomes more beautiful. My father told me a couple of days ago, ‘Do you remember when you were 16 years old that you told me someday you would have your own gallery?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I remember something like that.’
“And now here I am. You’re asking me if I’m back home? Damn right. And I love it.”