"This is the new deal here," says photographer Steve Mastroianni as I walk up to his new space, Silver Scuro Studio & Gallery, in Slavic Village. Mastroianni had been a mainstay in Tremont for over two decades,hosting a plethora of shows at his own studio/gallery, and serving a six-year stint as co-director for Tremont Art Walk. Despite his deep ties to the neighborhood, eventually it was time to move on.
"The lease was up, rents go up, and that comes along with success of an area," he says. "I needed more space. Opportunities in Tremont are not what they used to be and that's definitely not a knock against Tremont because I had great success there. But for what I need, I need a big studio space, not a small boutique. I need an actual working space and Slavic Village has that. They've got a lot of it and the spaces are wide open. There's a lot of opportunity here."
And here he will focus on three or four events throughout the year as opposed to Tremont where he was flipping an exhibit every couple of months. "I was always trying to hit that art walk deadline. I don't want to get back into that. Here I want to focus on the one event, combinations of maybe an exhibit, performance, lecture, reading, something along those lines. Maybe dedicate a week to it. Opening, closing, and that is it. It's not up for months. So finding people and things that are interesting to me, that work with each other, collaborative stuff, that interests me."
Silver Scuro faces Fleet Avenue next to Saucisson, another bourgeoning business in the neighborhood. The tin ceiling has gorgeous smudged brown and oxidized green patinas with a smattering of shiny new panels. It's a restoration professional's wet dream.
"The deal with it was that they scraped off the loose paint, because I assumed I would be repainting, but when I saw the original patina I said, 'Nope! I'm just going to leave that,'" he says. "I want more paint to come off, but that's not going to happen because it will probably kill me" — thanks to the labor involved, not lead.
Pieces salvaged from an old walk-in cooler next door form an open-air office space. "Instead of building drywall and all that crap, I saw these things and decided to use them to create dividers. I love them because they keep the whole space open and functional. This is what I wanted. This is twice the size of the previous studio (in Tremont)."
Since graduating from CIA in 1988, Mastroianni has been running his own business. "Yeah, so I actually majored in photography and stayed in the field. It can happen! Dreams can come true, kids!" he jokes. "Seriously though, the thing that really got me going was weddings. I love weddings, and artists and other photographers will be freaked out to hear that, but I'm going to go on the record and tell you how much I love weddings. They are incredibly challenging. You are doing all types of photography, and all kinds of technical considerations come into play ... and it's done within a very limited time frame under a lot of pressure. I know photographers who will not touch them because it is so stressful. The other part of it is extremely creative. In the summer, I shoot a wedding per week, which means each time I get to create a new body of work. I go into people's houses that I would never have any reason or purpose to go into, in this most intimate moment with all the emotions running high and family everywhere. I get people interacting with each other, intimate family interactions. Sometimes it's great or sometimes it's ugly, you never know. You want to do things in a beautiful and complimentary way, yet keep it real. So there's always challenges. What do I really want to show? Do I edit that out? It's akin to shooting sports. There's an immediacy. You have to get the shots right or you lose them. Then I'm doing things like portraits, which is really demanding because it's like doing a fashion shoot, except under the worst possible conditions. Lighting could be terrible and the location might not work. You could be shooting under midday sun. It's like photojournalism, street photography, and fashion photography all rolled into one big package ... and if you screw it up, you're in big trouble."
Outside of weddings, Mastroianni presents terrifically interesting material. His Dark Silver series is an amalgam of dark, profoundly moving portraits of individuals and couples, some of which adorn the walls around us. He has also created a catalogue of the portraits from 2014 to 2016. Due to space constraints, Mastroianni is on the hunt for a gallery other than his own to exhibit the entire series, which begs to be seen in full. (We hope it happens, because the force of this portraiture is concrete.)