Angie McMonigal is an urban architecture and fine art photographer from Chicago. Most of her work consists of minimalistic compositions exhibiting abstract patterns and perspective . Living in a big metropolis like Chicago gives her an opportunity and ability to see beautiful elements in huge objects like sky skyscrapers and gigantic structures. Through her work we can notice the change that’s been set in with changing times and feel its shaping effect on our life and beliefs. Angie’s work has been widely recognized and awarded by agencies around the world for its visual appeal and aesthetics. In her website she puts in precisely, “It’s a study in various perceptions of common subject matter– a way to see the whole by appreciating its detail– how we reveal a detail of ourselves while moving through these spaces.” For LensPeople, Angie answers our questions about her life as a photographer in great detail:
I grew up in a small, rural town in Central Wisconsin but found my way to Chicago shortly after college and have considered this my hometown since moving here more than 14 years ago. I love the energy of this city and much prefer living in this environment to the one I grew up in.
My college degree is in Medical Technology and I worked in that profession for 8 years until having children in 2007. While working I developed an interest in photography, perhaps as a creative outlet to balance my scientific career. I got my first SLR in 2001 and gradually taught myself the technical aspects of photography and really started to take it more seriously, hoping to pursue photography in a more artistic way, in 2004.
Initially my interest in photography was with black & white fine art photography, though I still wasn’t sure what genre most interested me. However, I took quite a detour working solely in children and family portraiture for 5-6 years right around the time my daughter was born. About 3 years ago I made the decision to quit the portrait work and get back to discovering what it was that drew me to photography in the first place.
So, now that you’re a mother cum homemaker cum professional photographer… how do you manage all these… duties?
This has been one of the most challenging parts of pursuing photography for me. Early on, before I had children, I was photographing with film so there was a lot of time spent in the darkroom. Back then I thought it was hard to find the time for photography between work, my husband, friends and family obligations, but little did I know what a rude awakening I was in for once I had kids! There’s nothing that flips your world upside down more than having children, the time commitment and complete change to your life that it brings. It took me a very long time after having children to figure out how to balance the two worlds and in all honesty I’m still trying to figure it out.
My children are still pretty young; I have a 6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son. While I don’t work outside of the home anymore, I’m a full-time mom and part-time, sometimes full-time, photographer so there’s a lot of guilt and feeling torn between responsibilities and desires with where to spend my time.
About 2 years ago I got to the point where I had to make the decision to try to separate the two worlds a bit better. I take one day a week, either by hiring a sitter to watch my kids or taking a Saturday or Sunday, to get out photographing. I go out regardless of weather, mood or other situations that could easily become excuses to skip photographing. My time to create the work is so very limited so I have to push myself to get out there when I have the opportunity. When you have small children there’s a lot of scheduling involved and sticking to that preplanned schedule is what keeps me creative, as counter-intuitive as that may sound. I think regardless of your work or family situation you need to schedule the time to create the work, if you don’t it’s far too easy to let other things get in the way. Believe me, I’ve made every excuse imaginable but when I push myself to spend the day photographing I always come home happier and feeling more balanced and inspired.
That still leaves the question as to when I get around to editing the work and marketing it either by posting to social media sites, writing blog posts, submitting to contests or whatever means it is to get the work out there, not to mention the commercial projects that come up from time to time. I try to do all this after the kids are in bed, though there are days when this is not possible and my kids end up watching far too much TV. There are many late nights, not as much time watching TV and movies or reading books as I’d like, but as with anything you do it’s all about choices and priorities. And I have a very supportive and understanding husband; absolutely none of this would be possible without his help.
Photography is something that makes me feel happy, alive and excited about life. I think every person has a unique view of the world and we all share our unique vision in different ways. Some people choose to express vision through a form of art, whether that’s photography, painting, writing or music though I would argue that it’s just as possible to share your vision and view of the world by the way you parent or do an office job. I think there are countless ways to share your vision of the world, for me this happens to be photography.
The area of photography that I focus on is the urban landscape and more often architecture and its details. Perhaps the style and way that I photograph is more along the lines of fine art photography though I do, on occasion, do commercial architectural work.
I’m not the most technologically savvy person and tend to make what I have work in terms of gear. I’m a firm believer in the less is more school of thought to keep me focused on my vision and artistry over what lens or camera I should be using for a particular image. I use the Nikon D700 and the majority of the time I shoot with the 24-70mm f2.8 lens. Occasionally I’ll rent other lenses when I know I need something different for a particular project but I don’t bog myself down with obsessing over gear.
Exhibiting nationally has been an honor over the last couple of years with images being shown in galleries in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City, among others. Receiving Honorable Mention by the International Photography Awards (IPA) for two of the three images I submitted last year was quite an honor. Having National Geographic feature some of my architectural work on their Your Shot Blog recently was a huge thrill, as NatGeo was one of the first publications I remember seeing as a child with amazing photography that inspired me to dream of one day making such wonderful photography of my own. And recently having a number of my images purchased by an international hotel brand for artwork.
Speaking of your urban architecture photography, it’s really very impressive and has great editorial/documentary value. How are do you take such magnificent images?
Thank you very much! As I mentioned earlier my time to create photography is somewhat limited at this point so there are no special conditions I wait for, I have to photograph when I can. That being said, I tend to prefer the harsher mid-day light, I like the dramatic shadows and lines this creates in an urban environment. I also like the early morning or late afternoon light just like any other photographer. And photographing unique weather is always a thrill; I especially love fog and rain. The only condition I somewhat dread making images in is a flat, gray, overcast day. There’s no drama and little dimension to architecture in this type of lighting.
Much of what I photograph, and the images that most speak to me, are the more abstract architectural takes on the city. I have a tendency to notice what is unseen to most people, I enjoy creating images that push the viewer into seeing a different and unique perspective, images that maybe allow the viewer to linger a bit longer within the image and take notice of what is often overlooked.
What do you think about contemporary photography with its trends and styles? Where do you think your work fits in and how distinct is it?
I think photography today is fascinating. There are so many unique and different ways to create images and I believe each has its own place. Overall I don’t think it’s repetitive or lacking originality but there are definitely fads and trends that you see take hold where every single photographer seems to decide this is the bandwagon to jump on. However, I don’t think this is any different than any other time in the history of photography or with any other art form for that matter.
Of course I hope that my work is distinct and full of originality but I wouldn’t say I’m breaking any new frontiers in photography. I just hope that my vision and view of the world resonates with others and allows them to see their surroundings in a new way- to maybe slow down a bit and take notice of what’s around them.
Tell us about your experience of shooting in Chicago and your favorite spots therein:
I live in Chicago and if you’re an architectural or urban landscape photographer there are countless places to photograph. Some of my favorites are in Millennium Park. The “Bean”, the Pritzker Pavilion and the BP Pedestrian Bridge offer so many architectural opportunities. Other buildings I love to photograph are Aqua, the tallest skyscraper in the world designed by a female lead architect, Jeanne Gang from Studio Gang. Another piece of architecture also designed by Studio Gang is the wood pavilion in Lincoln Park. Trump Tower, The Hyatt Center, Spertus Institute for Jewish Studies, the Burberry store, Lake Point Tower, Sofitel Chicago and so many more. Indoors I love the staircases in the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the spiral staircase in the Art Institute of Chicago. If you’re in town for the Open House Chicago in October that’s a really fantastic opportunity to get inside some amazing buildings that are generally closed to the public, a number of them offer fantastic views of the city as well.
My ambition is generally to keep creating work that interests me and hopefully is of interest to others. This year I’ll be teaching a class at Out of Chicago Photography’s Summer Conference on June 28 about Finding Your Vision in Photography. This is a first for me and I’m both excited and nervous about it.
There’s so much to be inspired by, so many great photographer’s past and present. Many of today’s contemporary photographers offer great inspiration to me. I greatly admire the work, vision and wisdom of Cole Thompson and Nathan Wirth. I love the haunting images of Susan Burnstine. The stunning long exposure images Julia Anna Gospodarou creates. And there are so many local Chicago photographers creating amazing work, Brian Sokolowski, Nima Taradji, Clarissa Bonet and Eric Holubow to name just a few. Of course I admire the work of the legends such as Paul Strand, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Saul Leiter, Wynn Bullock, Harold Feinstein, Michael Kenna, Ezra Stoller and so many more.
In terms of staying motivated, it really is just about maintaining a schedule of when I go out to photograph and making sure I do it as often as possible. For me, at this point in my life, at least once a week is about as often as I can. Don’t get me wrong, there are times I don’t feel like creating images and sometimes I’ll take those days I have scheduled for photography and go to the museum for a couple hours or read a photography book or inspirational book but I do find the best way to stay motivated is to just get out there and make the work.
Find out what it is that you want to express with your photography, what emotion(s) you want to convey through your images, what is unique about the way you see things and why you want to create the work you do. In other words, find your vision. It’s no easy task but one that’s worth seeking out.
Regardless of what experts, critics or fans say of your work I think you need to create for yourself and let the other voices fade away. If you force yourself to take a certain path because an expert believes it’s the right path or you try to create images to get the most likes, your images will come across shallow and without feeling. They will lack authenticity if it’s not your own unique vision. Only you know what you’re trying to express through your images and making yourself happy doing it is what matters most.
Most of all I’d like to thank you for the interview and for anyone who took the time to read this. I always very much appreciate the interest in my work.
Note: All images used with permission. Please do not copy or distribute without the approval of the photographer.