Call them dreamlike or nightmarish, but "ordinary" is not a word used to described Fairfax Station artist Todd Messegee's photography exhibit, "The Thief Who Stole Your Secret Dream." The images in the photos, which are on display through Sept. 27 in the Colgan Hall Art Space, at the Manassas Campus of Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), come from dreams that have haunted him for decades, Messegee said.
Carrying his camera, a Hasselblad that he prefers for its "simplicity — there is nothing automatic on this camera," in a black Los Angeles County coroner's bag, Messegee declines to explain the bag's origins, other than to say it "suits the work" he creates.
In most cases, Messegee said, "once an image becomes solid, it replaces the pictures in my head." One image that Messegee had to put on film in order to rid himself of it while he slept was a piece called “Mechanomorph.”
The photograph features a mannequin with a railroad light for a head, with a respirator mask where the mouth should be. Mechanized parts lie on the floor surrounding the piece, with square items strung on a cord cutting across the top-left corner of the image.
In the 1930s, when the first images of robots were included in avant-garde art, "they were represented as a person made of mechanical parts. I had this horrible recurring dream from college of seeing a part human, part mechanized person," said Messegee.
After he brought the image out of his head and onto film, the dream left. "This piece offered me the most relief," Messegee said.
MESSEGEE DOES, however, have a favorite nightmare. "This is the closest I've ever come to creating the image of a ghost," he said of the 2.5-inch-square photo titled "Lucy."
"I'm really happy with the way it turned out," he said of the blazing white figure in the middle of a dark background, the arms of the line and head slightly blurred.
Messegee said that he likes to include little tricks or background items that viewers don't always see at first. "I try to include little magic tricks to make people go, 'Ooh!'" he said. "I like to give you that ah-ha! moment."
His wife of almost three years, Lisa Messegee, is his greatest source of encouragement.
"Oh, she loves it," he said. "She encourages me on a daily basis."
Messegee wouldn't have created his "Thief" piece if it hadn't been for his wife. "She came across it in my sketchbook and said she loved it and asked me to shoot it. She offered to produce it [she worked as a television producer at the time], so I agreed. She made me lunch," he said with a laugh.
Claire Azkerman, a program support staff member for the humanities department at NOVA's Manassas campus, said she was impressed with Messegee's creativity.
"I might not always understand what's going on in the piece, but it helps to speak with the artist about it," she said. "I definitely encourage people to do that with this exhibit."
Beth DeAngelo, a librarian who walks past the exhibit before entering the library every day, said that she's noticed the exhibit but will wait until the opening on Sept. 8 before taking a closer look.
"It's very interesting that it's based on his dreams," she said of the images. "He certainly has very interesting dreams."
Randy Michener, program head of the fine arts department at the college, said he approached Messegee for the exhibit because Messegee teaches a digital photography course.
"I thought it was important to have the students look at his work as well," Michener said.
"I like the dreamscape images," Michener said. Being an abstract painter himself, he considered it important to "realize what things are that are not in the normal context" that people are used to seeing and thinking of them in.
"I really enjoy working with Todd," Michener said. "We have a like spirit" in their artistic endeavors, he said.