David Lynch and James Gray's set designer unveils his Polaroid
The inimitable set designer Happy Massee whose work has been made famous thanks to great masters of movie-making, music and fashion, has released a volume of exclusive Polaroid pictures captured throughout his career.
What links David Lynch, James Gray, Nicolas Winding Refn and Zoe Cassavetes ? Apart from their status as esteemed film directors - some of them already in the pantheon of cinema - they have all worked at least once with production director and set designer Happy Massee. A shadowy figure as discreet as he is prolific, his visionary approach is the secret behind the visual worlds of Two Lovers, Broken English and The Immigrant, music videos for the White Stripes and Madonna, and some of the biggest fashion campaigns of recent years for the likes of Gucci and Salvatore Ferragamo.
The goal of these images was to make “extensions” of the projects I worked on
A true visual compendium, the aptly named Diary of a set designer collates Polaroid photos taken by the artist over 25 years of career. A vertiginous mix of Lynchian, sensual and mysterious ambiances, candid portraits of celebrities resembling ordinary folk and so many other things, this work is key to understanding the American man’s psychology. “I started taking Polaroids on my first ever set, a music video for a singer called Martika that we filmed in Puerto Escondido, Mexico in the early 1990s,” he tells us, “The goal of these images was to make work references or extensions of the projects I worked on. They served only as indications of places we’d been to, as supporting documents to show to the director when he couldn’t be on set.”
Working on The Immigrant with James Gray was a fantastic experience. A historical movie based on Ellis Island where we had to transcribe the grimy depths of 1920s New York ; can you imagine a better visual project than that?
It’s the perfect opportunity to look back at his most memorable experiences, those that forged his vision as a set designer. “Working on The Immigrant with James Gray was a fantastic experience. A historical movie based on Ellis Island where we had to transcribe the grimy depths of 1920s New York; can you imagine a better visual project than that?” He continues, “That said, I also worked with people who are much less known, some really very talented directors like Malcolm Venville and Jake Scott… I’d say that what makes them all so brilliant is the fact that their visual identity and talent are so unique; each one has their own speciality. The only common denominator is their passion for what they do.” A passionate characteristic that perfectly characterises him too…
Diary of a set designer, published by Damiani, text by Happy Massee. 21,5 x 26,5, 160 pages, Colour, English.
By Marion Ottaviani.