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Artist Finds Positives in Negatives

You won't find Thomas Mezzanotte shopping for an advanced digital camera. Though the Fairfield Arts Council honored him as its Artist of the Year for his photographs, he has no use for the "crisp, clear" images camera companies advertise. He prefers to take a rawer approach.

"Sometimes when you begin is when you get the most powerful images," Thomas says. "When you start to refine things and become conventional in your approach to your own work, you lost that edge."

Thomas specializes in "camera obscura" photography. It was the original practice for the art form, using simple lenses to reflect light onto photo-sensitive paper or metal plates. Thomas makes his own cameras, often out of simple cardboard boxes with holes cut in the side.

His self-portraits at the FAC, for example, used a box from an old dishwasher and the lens from a simple magnifying glass. The imperfections in the glass create a vastly different image. In fact, Thomas was so struck by the negatives that he decided not to develop the images for the show because doing so would reverse the color pattern and he liked it as it was.

"It starts out very sharp in the middle, and then dissolves into an atmospheric haze," Thomas says. "It's a beautiful image, almost like an impressionist painting."

Thomas discovered an interest in photography at Trumbull High School. He and his friends noticed that a dark room in the school was going unused. They started a photography club as an excuse to hang out in the room, knowing teachers would not barge in unannounced.

When he moved on to the University of Bridgeport, Thomas originally took up physics before switching to photography. He was always interested in the science behind the art.

Today, he shares that interest in combining science and photography with his students. Although he teaches college and adult education courses as well, most of his pupils are fifth-graders. He teaches the kids about optics and history by making pinhole cameras from shoeboxes.

"It creates a grounding to what the teachers have been teaching throughout the entire year," Thomas says. "All of a sudden, they say, 'Oh my God, that's what she's saying.'"

Thomas' exhibit, "The Autobiography of an Effort: An Introspective," is on display at the Fairfield Arts Council, 70 Sanford St., until Nov. 27.

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