Emmanuel Monzon is a French 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.
Statement : My work focuses primarily on the idea of urban sprawling and the urban expansion of its periphery. I photographs urban banality as though it were a romantic painting, trying only to be “stronger than this big nothing” in controlling the space by framing the subject. My aesthetic of the banal obeys its own rules: a ban on living objects, a precise geometrical organization, and the revelation of a specific physical and mental landscape blurring the lines between city and suburb, between suburb and countryside, a process that results in an independent identity. This aesthetic of the emptiness in my photographic work attempts to understand our current environment.
I’ve always been fascinated by images, be they from photography, cinema, advertising, TV shows. However, I am above all a plastic/visual artist (beaux-arts, Paris France). I started with painting (specializing in drawings and pastel colors).
For a long time, I reproduced in drawing ‘poor’ photography from catalogs, leaflets, with zero aesthetical aspects, at real scale and I have a lot of it. You may read more about it here.
My approach to photography comes from this time, which is linked to questioning an images, its representation, its reproduction, its broadcasting.
Anecdotally, toward the end of this period, I ended up exhibiting large scale photography of my own urban landscape drawings on tracing paper. More about this can be found in the article of a critic which headline was “what may be seen is not necessary what has been done”.
At the end of this process, my transition to photography became obvious. It took time with a lot of questioning and fumbling around before I found my marks.
I think that not attending any school of photography turned out to be ironically strength for my work. It allowed me to free myself up from aesthetic, technical constraints as well as photography fundamentals. I was not afraid! Unlike what happened with my background in painting where I found myself often blocked by concepts, references to the masters of painting, and by an environment I felt was narrow minded.
From the start, I intellectualized my work less, I gave myself freedom which allowed me to find my themes, my style while keeping some of the principles I experienced in painting, that is the importance of the frame, lines of force, colors, the skinning of the image. I focused on the subject.
My plastic artist and painter background influences my photographic work. I am a photographer who paints or a painter who uses photography – I am caught in the middle, in an “in between state”.
This in-between state can be found also in my landscapes or urban sprawl series. I photography places of transition, borders, passages from one world to another, am I leaving a city or entering a new place?
My landscape pictures always feature human traces (billboards, traffic lights, poles, roads), a reminder of urbanity built by human beings but no human beings are ever shown in my pictures.
Living in the US, I have the impression to live in the painting, in the picture, being able to move around within this frame, to be part of this American mythology which keeps reinventing itself.
I choose square frames because it focuses on the subject and allows me to distance myself from the photography. My humble purpose is that each of my picture tells a story, makes the viewers feel something, that something is “happening”.
In my artwork, there is no judgment, no denunciation, there is only the picture itself. If I could sum up the common theme of my photos, it would be about emptiness, about silence.
My pictures try to extract from the urban mundane landscape a form of estheticism. Where people only pass through, I stop and look for some form of poetic beauty. I like repetitions, I like series, and I like driving around.
Images featured here are a selection of different places which provide a representation of my current work where the name of the place matters little.
Preferences, methods and equipment, etc.: I travel a lot. I drive around a lot. I like to circle around the subject and 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.
Back to the studio - I sort out, I extract my storyline, I do the first step of framing (always using square frames), I choose the color that will stand out for the series, I let the series rest for several days and I go back to it, repeating the same process over and over again.
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 emerges, articulated around its own story, its place, and its mood.
My goal is to reach my own reality. I understood with the experience that real does not exist, it’s only a question of interpretation.
However, I don’t use photography software, no Photoshop, no Lightroom, just the basics of balance and colors. I like printings on big scale watercolor paper (30 x 30 inches) to be exhibited in art galleries, like a painting.
I shoot simply with a camera, as in street photography. I have a Panasonic Lumix GM1. I changed the lens to Leica DG Summilux 25mm, and a Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 with Leica 35-100 lens.
I need to have it handy, ready to shoot. I don’t have sentimental attached to my camera, I only hope for efficiency. Most of the work will happen in the studio, especially since I have a rather love/hate relationship with my camera knowing I am a poor technician. I belong to the digital generation. Without this numeric revolution, I would not have had the chance to be in this discipline.
My upcoming project(s)/events : I’m preparing for an exhibition in Europe with the art gallery which represents me (Private View, Italy); an exhibition in Asia for the art gallery in Hong Kong (Charbon); 2 photo books, respectively called “around my neighborhood” (around the 4 seasons), “urban sprawl Las Vegas, emptiness”
Influences and favorite stuff : As a young adult, I always admired painters such as Giorgio De Chirico (his geometrical figures, little to no human presence, something appeasing but also oppressing), Edward Hopper for his static compositions and his true American landscapes, also Mike Bayne. Other photographers include: Robert Adams, William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Bill Owens, Robert Frank, Gregory Crewdson, Gordon Parks, and Joel Meyerowitz.
From the cinema and literature, I am influenced by movies of Scorcese, James Frey (Morning After), The Twin Peaks TV show, True Detective, Take Shelter, Hell or High Water, etc.
All photos © Emmanuel Monzon : Website | Instagram | Tumblr