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. His work is represented by galleries in Europe and Asia, and his work is exhibited widely. I know Monzon’s work, have interviewed him a few years ago, and have followed his projects over that time.
We had the opportunity recently to talk about his portfolio featured in the October portfolio issue. His Urban Sprawl Emptiness portfolio focuses primarily on the idea of urban sprawl and the expansion of its periphery. According to Monzon, he “photographs urban banality as though it were a Romantic painting, trying to be ‘stronger than this big nothing’ in controlling the space by framing the subject.” Monzon’s 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.
Monzon’s images are often shot at a low perspective with the camera placed on the ground. This approach gives the viewer a fresh take on how we observe the world around us; buildings, cars, even sidewalks take on depth and scale not seen otherwise. This is one of the strengths in Monzon’s work that gives a new perspective at what casual observers of landscape often overlook. He adheres to using a square format for his images, and a rule to never include people in the images; while the influence of people upon the urban spaces is undeniable. The visual irony of the significant impact of people upon their surrounding environment, and their notable absence in his images results in an eerie, surreal tension.
In addition to his signature style in the Urban Sprawl Emptiness work, Monzon creates other related work. “I work on parallel projects, like the night pictures series I produced,” Monzon adds, “with black and white as well as color pictures. There is also a series born from the specific atmosphere created by the light in the early or late hours of the day or by the fog that often surrounds the place where I live. These three series have the suburban streets of American cities in common.”
We discussed his inspirations for the work, and he stated, “What inspires me is the emptiness in the urban landscape or in the great American spaces. I like to mix the two approaches: The codes of the new topographics and the concept of ‘in-between two states’ inspired by the anthropologist Marc Auge. I like these transitional non-places, like intersections or passages from one world to another, such as going from a residential area to an industrial area. I also like the tourist places altered by human influence. We often find this feeling of emptiness, of visual paradox by traveling throughout the United States.”
I asked Monzon about the way this transition is portrayed in his work. He says, “The transition from one site to the next gives the feeling 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’.”
Many photographers keep notes about the locations where they shoot, and often include unrelated journal entries. I asked Monzon if he keeps a journal. He replies, “I don’t keep a journal because my approach is dictated by my constant travel around places. I drive, I look around, I stop, I take pictures. And when I am back in my studio, I often have reminiscence of places I have visited and pictures that I have taken that makes me want to go back and explore new territories or angles. My approach is like one of a topographer, I don’t write, I visualize.” This fits with his mantra: “where most people only pass through, I stop and look for some form of poetic beauty. I like repetition, I like series, and I like driving around.”
When we talked about the subject of starting a new series of photos, Monzon says, “If all goes well, I am in the process of planning a road trip of a week in New Mexico to go and visit specific spots I have already identified and selected. I am always working on my next possible trip based on places of interests for me that I want to photograph.”
For more information about Emmanuel Monzon, or to see more of his work, please visit his website.
Also published on Medium.