Easthampton photographer brings digital photography to postcards

Last modified: Thursday, April 17, 2014

As Joseph Casciano sees it, there’s something of a disconnect between the growing world of online photography and the more established one of print photos — and now he’s trying to bridge that gap.

Casciano, 28, a photographer who lives in Easthampton, has just started a homegrown business, Gyroscope Prints, in which he selects fine art photographs from upcoming artists who post much of their work online, then prints the work on a very traditional and popular format: postcards. For a small monthly fee, subscribers receive those postcards weekly, each one featuring work by a different artist.

The accessibility and simplicity of postcards, Casciano says, gives online photos a suitable physical setting, one that reflects the Web’s democratic vibe.

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“Printed photographs are usually hung up on a wall, part of an exhibit, or they’re in a coffee-table-style book that can be pretty pricey,” he said. “With this format, you can make them part of your everyday life.”

And, says Casciano, he’s also hoping his venture will give exposure to young photographers, in particular by making their work more visible beyond the Internet.

Even so, Gyroscope Prints (www.gyroscopeprints.com) has a busy online presence, with a photo archive, artist interviews, and links to other photo blogs, the artists’ websites and Facebook and Twitter.

“There’s a really vibrant online photo scene, with blogs, social media and photo-sharing sites, and I was looking for a way to connect that with the more traditional print world,” Casciano said. But whereas online photo collections tend to invite quick scrutiny, he says, a physical print “makes you slow down and take a closer look.”

So far he’s lined up about 26 photographers — including one from Lithuania — to take part in Gyroscope Prints, finding and identifying the artists through photo-sharing sites like Tumblr. At the moment, artists receive free copies of the prints but no payment, though he hopes to be able to give participants a small financial return in the future if business volume increases. “I think the main benefit for the artists right now is exposure.”

Subscribers in the United States pay $12 a month and receive a print by a different artist each week. Casciano says establishing a subscription service was the best way to make the business work: “I like the idea of setting up a routine, where I send something out every week, rather than hope to get some bulk orders.”

‘Photo-based’ art

The emphasis, Casciano notes, will be on fine art photography, as well as work by “photo-based” artists working in that milieu — for example, altering photos by painting over them or adding different effects. Casciano, who studied photography and media arts at Ithaca College and the School of Visual Arts in New York City, notes that fine art photography, loosely defined, is based on an artist’s perception or vision, as opposed to documentary photography that’s meant to capture a certain moment.

In a follow-up email, he said the core of what he’s looking for is an alternative viewpoint. “The more unique or unexpected an image is, the more interested I am. This doesn’t mean the work has to be dazzling or ultra-contemporary and at the vanguard of new technological processes ... [but] good photography shows you another way of looking at things.”

He noted that the first three photos he printed all have images that are fairly unremarkable, such as an egg being pealed, but that each has unusual elements, such as the light and the blue background of the egg pealing: “I love these images because they’re taking things I’m familiar with and casting them in a new light.”

For instance, the first artist Gyroscope Prints featured, Sacha Vega, uses black-and-white and color photographs to examine ordinary objects — a partially formed puzzle, clothing slung on the back of a folding chair, a potted plant, and the egg being pealed — in different perspectives. The plant, as one example, is partially visible in a magnifying glass that someone holds before the leaves, while much of the foreground of the picture is deliberately out of focus.

Vega, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., and whose work has been shown in the online journal “feature shoot,” also brings a sly sense of humor to her photos. One depicts a swan, its head buried beneath the water of a pond, in perfect symmetry with a broken tree limb that’s also partially underwater. In another image, two pigtailed girls, viewed from behind, sit side by side; one pigtail from each girl is tied to the other, and beneath this thick, braided strand, someone holds a lighted match.

Another featured artist, Heather Rasmussen of Los Angeles, looks for contrasting colors and tones in the dry landscapes of southern California, as well as images for which she conducts what she calls “sculptural experiments” by placing her body alongside various objects, such as summer squash and carrots.

In the image that Gyroscope Prints mailed to subscribers, Rasmussen photographed one of her legs, bent at the knee, with a curved yellow squash partly surrounding one of her feet; her other foot, just partly visible, is tucked against the back of her leg. This image is in turn framed within a postcard that’s positioned against a partially seen backdrop of oranges.

“These arrangements are captured with the camera using the point of view a dancer has of her own body,” Rasmussen writes in accompanying text. “The final images are very formal and beautiful, but their meaning lies in the play that occurs in the space between awkward and erotic, familiar and confusing, clear and distorted.”

Casciano, who has exhibited his own photography in a number of places in the Valley, including the Hosmer Gallery at Forbes Library in Northampton, says he’s signed up a number of New England photographers for Gyroscope Prints, including one from Sommerville and two from Providence, R.I.

Among some of the more notable ones are Jason Fulford, a Pennsylvania photographer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Time magazine, and on the book jackets of numerous authors; and Mark Dorf, who lives in Brooklyn and whose work has gotten a lot of attention of late at online design and photography sites such as The Creators Project.

Casciano, who works at Ugone & Thomas Co., a Cottage Street Studios business that makes decorative lamps and other home furnishings, says he doesn’t imagine Gyroscope Prints becoming a big business for him — he’s signed up about 25 subscribers so far — but hopes to expand it. “So far so good,” he said.


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