2020 was a tumultuous year most of us would like to forget, but it was not without some silver linings, one of which was we had more time for walks outdoors, and for appreciating the natural beauty of our surroundings on Cape Cod. Max Mattei is an artist with a particularly focused “2020 vision” for seeing things many of us might overlook. His “Cape Cod Alphabet” is a remarkable compilation of photos of found objects, some natural, and others manmade, each representing a different letter of the alphabet. Max describes the process as a labor of love: “It took an extraordinary amount of time to photograph and design. None of the letters were contrived or altered. They were taken the way I found them, in their natural state, and thus, some of the images are a very clear letter form and others more suggestive.” Last week we had a chance to speak with Max about his work.
AHG: What inspired you to create your Alphabet series? Max: From the very first time I started exploring and visually documenting Cape Cod I was stunned by and completely drawn into its uniquely beautiful landscape with breathtaking panoramas everywhere I turned. I was incredibly moved by the singular personality of each town and this inspired me to translate many of those images into photographs, hoping to capture their individual flavor while still underlining the connection between them. Every visit revealed something new as the landscape continually altered itself in response to the turning of tides, a change in the wind, the mood of the skies above. An idea began to form that I wanted to put together a collage made up of smaller images that would thread together to create a narrative of sorts. My concern, however, was that using so much visual information from photographic images in a collage format would result in a piece that was overwhelmingly busy and therefore loose the simplicity I was striving for. Looking over some of my photographs, I noticed that I could see suggestions of some letter forms and thought, if done the right way, an ABC of the Cape with a cohesive series of images would allow me to tell the story in a more controlled and aesthetically pleasing manner. AHG: How did you begin the search for the letters? Was there a plan? How long did it take? Max: At the onset of this project, it was vital to me that none of the letters were to be manipulated or contrived in any way but to be totally organic and photographed as I found them, untouched and unaltered. Many of the letter forms were interpretive, sometimes just suggesting the letter they represented. This undertaking took months spent combing the Cape in my search to stay true to that ideal. It also resulted in many hundreds of pictures to sort through - it was really a labor of love laced with a lot of determination. AHG: Which letters were the most difficult to find, and which the easiest? Max: Given the criteria I set for myself, every letter presented its own challenge. I took multiple shots of different images for each letter so that I would have a library to choose from and determine what would be best for the overall design of the print. The Q was particularly difficult to find due to its inherent shape. The A was an instance of being in the right place at the right time with my camera at hand. Seeing that shadow cast on the sand in that shape was a stroke of good luck and is still one of my favorites in the print. AHG: Did the process reveal anything new about Cape Cod and its environment to you? Did it change your perception of Cape Cod in any way? Max: The entire process increased my affinity for Cape Cod. With so much visual information and cinematic landscapes to choose from, working on this project truly emphasized the relationship between the smallest elements being such an important component of the larger picture. It made me want to continue to dive deeper and deeper with my photography in Cape Cod as I see it as an unlimited resource and inspiration for my entire life as an artist. There will always be the excitement of what each day has to offer and what new images will be revealed through the camera eye. AHG: What do you hope the viewer will take away from looking at the Cape Cod Alphabet print? Max: It would be my wish that viewers of the print will be able to "see a world in a grain of sand" as the poet William Blake so eloquently wrote. In a world where people are constantly plugged in to technology and social media, caught up in the headlong rush of a busy life, I would hope they might take a moment to stop, be still, and remember the awesome beauty and power of the world around them, from the smallest most humble grain of sand to the most sweeping and majestic vistas, realizing they are all one and the same. We all need to remember from time to time we do indeed live in a beautiful world.
AHG: Are there any technical details about the process you’d like to share? Max: For this print I used a Canon 7D Mark 2. I work with a really talented local printer who allows me to oversee the entire process and make certain that the clarity and color of all the images remains true to the desired end result. Everything is printed on archival Fuji Crystal paper. I also culled through hundreds of images to put the final print together as the design and layout was as crucial to the finished product as the photos were. It was important that all the images were harmonious and supportive of one another in order to create the flow and feel of the entire piece. AHG: We should point out that your work on the Cape Cod print also inspired you to create a Boston version as well. Max: It seemed like a natural progression for me to do a Boston alphabet. It is a city I love, full of culture, diversity, a rich history, and iconic landscapes and architecture. AHG: Thanks, Max for these wonderful creations! We look forward to sharing your work with our friends on the Cape, in the USA, and around the world.