Emmanuel Monzon is a photographer and visual artist based in Seattle, WA. He graduated from the Academy of Beaux-Arts in Paris, France with honors.
His work has been featured throughout the US, Europe and Asia (through exhibitions, selections and various awards). Through his work, he explores and questions the signs of urban sprawl in our visual field. His photographic process is being influenced by his background as a plastic artist. [Print Version] [Digital Version][Official Website]
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I was born and raised in Paris and lived there for 40 years. I moved to Seattle almost eight years go. After leaving seven years in Asia (Singapore). After graduating from les Beaux-Arts in Paris, I stayed in Paris and after a short period of abstract painting, I went back to figurative art, asking myself about image and its reproduction. It translated into transferring images from catalogues and flyers onto enamel plates and glazed tiles. Then I moved to draw these pictures at their exact same real size – small formats – without trying to ensure that the drawing will be well represented. You can find some some impressions of my work from that period here. Then I transitioned to big formats by taking pictures of my own drawings, enlarging them to fit big formats. It was the beginning of my series around urban landscapes.
How did you get interested in photography?
A trained plastic artist (graduate of the Beaux-Arts of Paris), I have always worked with the image and the stakes of its representation. About ten years ago, I felt the need to use the medium of photography. In practice, I always see myself as a painter who uses the tool of photography as a transitional passage. I’m in the in-between, I’m a photographer who paints or a painter who uses photography.
As soon as I arrived in Seattle, I had the intuition that my work had to continue through the medium of photography, it was obvious to me. I had the feeling that my work could only be photographic for this space, which creates its own mythology. One understands very quickly that one is going to be on perpetual move on this territory; Somehow I became nomadic and the only tool I need is a camera. I also quickly realized that I was going to live in my own subject and that it was a privilege.
What inspired you take your Urban sprawl project?
Urban sprawl emptiness was evident from my favorite subjects in this endeavor. At the beginning of this project, the title also included the location where the photo was taken. However, over time it did not seem necessary to indicate it anymore. It did not matter, and seemed anecdotal. This generic title was imposed by the seriality and the repetition of my subjects of predilections: the deserts of the American West and their poetic and chaotic processions of motorway interchanges, the cities without centers, the residential zones without inhabitants. I have the feeling that the extension, the identical and omnipresent reproduction of the trace of the humans on this territory, ultimately shrinks the world.
How would you define your general style photography?
I like to play/’mix’ two approaches: The codes of the new topographics and the concept of “in between-two states” inspired by the anthropologist Marc Auge under the name of non-places. I like transitional places, like intersections or passages from one world to another, such as from a residential area to an industrial area. I also like the tourist places altered by the human trace. We often find this feeling of emptiness, of visual paradox by travelling throughout the United States. The transition from one site to the next: You have arrived and at the same time you have never left. I believe that the expansion of the urban or industrial landscape in the American natural landscape has redefined this space and has become itself a “non-place.”
Could you please tell us anything about your technique and creating process?
I drive around a lot.
I like to circle around the subject, map it.
I can stay a long time in a specific place and shoot it thoroughly multiple times.
Sometimes the frame is obvious, but not always. I know that the subject is there but I cannot really see it so I shoot obsessively hoping to find a result when back at my studio.
I can also come back to the same place many times.
Then, back to the studio.
a. I sort out
b. I extract my storyline
c. I do the first step of framing (always using square frames)
d. I choose the color that will stand out for the series
e. I let the series rest for several days
f. I go back to it, repeating the same process from a to e
Lately, I don’t discard the leftovers, I re-work them several months later and sometimes I can find new directions. As I said before, I am using the same process as a painter. I think first about the sketch, the draft. Then, I work my picture like a painting on a canvas, I select the colors. Throughout this process, a series emerge, articulated around its own story, its place, its mood.
In your opinion, what makes a black & white Photography
Personally, when I am working on a black & white series, what is important for me is that the color black must be truly black and that the color white must be truly white. To be more precise, the black and white play important roles in photography, and I use them to create the atmosphere that I desire. I mostly do black and white photos during the night, because I think the black and white contrast more during the night. Generally, it is in these conditions that a unique atmosphere can be created.
How much preparation do you put into taking a photography?
I do not have any rules concerning when I take photos, during my travels, I am letting myself taken by the discovery of places. However, sometimes, I locate certain areas and I return to these areas to work with the conditions that suits me, like the lighting or atmosphere.
What do you think makes a memorable project?
The memorable project is always the next one, as I always hope that the next project I do will surpass my previous projects. That is why I am always excited to prepare my next voyage, but also anxious because I am never sure that I will be able to surpass my previous projects. I am always a servant of the nature, atmosphere, and lighting that I cannot control. What is great about photography is that an area tells different stories based on the climate, whether it is night or day, clear or foggy, it always has different things to say.
How do you know you got the shot you wanted?
There are also no rules concerning the perfect shot. Sometimes, however, the perfect shot presents itself on its own, and the only thing to do is to take the shot, but for me, the perfect shot presents itself when I am working on the photos in my studio, the framing makes the most difference when working on a photo. When the balance of your photo is strong, it will tell an interesting story.
Your idea of the perfect composition?
This relates to the previous question. Personally, in my work, the perfect composition is finding the equilibrium in the composition, which is often caused by the symmetry and which gives the result of a static look.
What would iI find in your Camera Bag?
My go to camera is simply a PANASONIC LUMIX DMC GX8, I just changed the lens to a LEICA DG SUMMILUX 25MM and the LEICA 35-100. I need to have it handy, ready to shoot. I don’t have sentimental attachment to my camera, I only hope for efficiency. I belong to the digital generation. Without this numeric revolution, I would not have had the chance to be in this discipline.
How important is an awesome website for your business and how has social media played a role in your photography?
Indeed, a website is very important. It needs to show my work and my accomplishment. Personally, the role of social media was very important in the diffusion of my photo, it has brought me many publications, selections, and to be noticed by many galleries that allowed me to exhibit my work.
What future plans do you have? What projects would you like to accomplish?
I am preparing a road trip in the state of Texas and New Mexico, and I hope to find an interesting series that will enter the frame of my work.
Finally, one las question. What opinion do you have of Dodho Magazine?
It is a highly interesting magazine, open to all forms of photography, whether it be photo-documentary, photo-journalism, fine arts, and on contemporary photography in general. It is a very active and responsive journal on the world of photography, and is always a pleasure to read.