Spaces Corners owner, Melissa Catanese took over for April Friges earlier this year and shares her thoughts on teaching photography through books at Point Park University.
By: Briana Walton
Melissa Catanese has an extensive list of different photography projects such as working on photography books and working at different colleges like the Pittsburgh Art Institute. She will be adding Point Park to her list in light of photography professor April Friges going on maternity leave sometime this semester.
Catanese currently lives in Troy Hill where her shop, Spaces Corners is located. At Point Park, she will be the photography department’s visiting professor. While Friges is gone, Catanese will be taking over all of Friges’s current classes until she returns next semester.
Besides a photographer and an educator, Catanese considers herself a bookseller and a sales representative for a publishing house in the United States that is based in the United Kingdom.
Catanese was born in Cleveland, Ohio where she began practicing photography in high school.
“I do remember a period of time where I realized that one of the things I loved about photography was this exploratory theme involved,” Catanese as she recalls walking around Downtown Cleveland photographing the city. “It was something exciting about observing the world.”
Even before Catanese began practicing photography, she was exposed to the subject because of her mother who would make collages as well as hang photos on the walls and the mantle.
“I’ve been the subject of many photographs as my family has a long tradition of taking pictures of everyone in front of the fireplace or everyone at family events and picnics,” Catanese said. “I was always very interested in that phenomena of the family snapshot.”
Catanese said her proudest moment was when her project “Dive Dark Dream Slow” was nominated for the Paris Photo-Aperture First Book Award in 2012. The project is a collection of vernacular photographs about the human condition, exploring the themes of love and innocence and tenderness, and natural phenomenons like the moon and ocean.
“It’s a poetic narrative exploring these universal themes of what it feels like to be human full of all of these dichotomies like love and hate and anxiety and tenderness. It was all vernacular photography so I was working with found and anonymous images,” Catanese said.
Of the images that were used, many of them were derived from a New York archive she was working with at the time. The archive consisted of about 20,000-30,000 images.
The project later was exhibited by an institution in San Francisco and then was acquired by the same institution later on.
When Catanese lived in New York she was a representative for an art book distributer based in Los Angeles, California selling books to museums.
“I would go to museum stores and boutique shops and small book shops around New York selling these books that were from mostly European publishers,” Catanese said. “I was really interested in the book world.”
This “book world” is where Catanese feels her photographs belong and not in a gallery. She believes that people of the book world are more relatable.
“I feel like books are more democratic in that way where they are more accessible to people. It’s always been a passion and a love of mine.” Catanese said.
It is through this that Catanese gained the inspiration to start her own shop. She moved from New York to Pittsburgh in April of 2011 and opened her own shop, Spaces Corners, in Troy Hill in October of the same year.
Spaces Corners is a shop where Catanese sells photobooks from artists all over the world with similar styles. The shop is also where Catanese and her partner make their projects as well as publish their own photobooks.
“We really think of Spaces Corners as a project of itself,” Catanese said. “We don’t consider ourselves traditional retailers. It’s a constantly evolving project where it’s almost an extension of our artwork”
Ben Schonberger, photography professor at Point Park, said that he had known about Spaces Corners when he moved to Pittsburgh to work at the university about a year and a half ago. He went to the shop to introduce himself and buy some books. He went back a few times after and got to know [Catanese] more.
“She’s supportive and the students are very excited to have her because she brings a lot,” Schonberger said. “She’s able to do things and come from places that April and I haven’t been so it’s been great in that it’s another critique. It’s another opinion.”
During her time at Point Park, Catanese has brought in books for Friges’ classes that she has shadowed in. Tyler Calpin, a junior photography major, explained how the books have played a role in the View Camera class.
“She brings in [multiple] books every week to help us understand,” Calpin said. “Giving us the physical photo, giving us something tangible to play with and look at I think really helps [when you are working in such a way like large format].”
Julie Kooser, a senior photojournalism major, is taking Thesis and describes Catanese as knowledgeable.
“She likes to explain everything when she says something and she gives the history of whatever she is talking about. She engages the group,” Kooser said. “She’s very in-depth question oriented. She likes open ended questions instead of just asking a yes or no question.”
Catanese encourages young photographers to “make as much work as possible.” Not only does she tell them to go out and shoot, but she also tells them to study other photography.
“In order to become a good artist, you have to have a vocabulary of other artists to reference,” Catanese said. “In order to become a good maker, you need to become a good viewer.”