Friday, March 27, 2015

Featured Photographer: Gary Monroe

Gary Monroe has influenced my photography, and I am very pleased to share some of my favorite images from his work at the Krome Resettlement Camp and throughout Haiti, where he went and returned to some 2 times and that before journalists descended there. He is a professor at the Southeast Center for Photographic Studies, and was my first professor in the program. In the beginning he drove me nuts. I wanted an Army Sergeant of a teacher and he taught his class like "summer camp" (his words). He was personable, relaxed and, although a lot of fun to be around, he was dead serious about photography. I was an intense rageaholic, cursing my negatives. He patted me on the head, laughed at my frustrations, and once bummed a cigarette off a student for me when I blamed nicotine withdraws for my problems in the darkroom (proving me wrong, because the cigarette didn't help).

Our only rules in class were "No sunsets. No squirrels. No excuses." Watch him photograph was amazing; his approach was affectionately and famously dubbed "The Monroe" by the few students who had witnessed him work. He nonchalantly walks up to a person, raises his Leica to his eye, clicks the shutter, and continues on his way to another situation in which he’ll find some sort of potential image and meaning, and all with no explanations offered.

Gary Monroe taught me what the decisive moment meant. He taught not to hesitate and gave me a kind of confidence and trust that allowed me to walk up to anyone to get the shot without fear, how to show people in subhuman circumstances with great compassion, and how to make art with no shame, both because of and in spite of myself… He also let it slip that he held a special affection for me because of my work ethic. We are both tireless hard laborers.



 QS: Where are you originally from? 
GM: I was born in Miami Beach and grew up there, in South Beach.



QS: How did you begin in photography?
GM: Dumb luck; the same way I photograph.


QS: When I think of your work, I think "Black and white" "film" and “documentary". Even though you have moved away from black and white at times, you keep going back. What is it that attracts you to this process and style?

GM: I work almost exclusively with a Leica and b/w film. When I try something else it’s mostly fun-and-games. It’s the best and easiest way to be style-less.

QS: Did you describe yourself as "style-less"? I find that surprising. Your work absolutely has a style to it. If you showed me a lineup of street photography shots I'm pretty confident I could pick your work out.

GM: Perhaps you’re confusing the others, whom have style, with me. Of course, one’s identity being in the fabric of one’s photographs is inevitable, but I try hard to conceal it by stripping camerawork to the barest minimum; that is, using the camera naturally, without much deliberation, to make immediate and unmediated responses. Also, when I think style, I’m usually looking at visual affectations.


QS: Who were the biggest influences on your career?

GM: Probably Cartier-Bresson and Winogrand. They used the same camera and similar lenses, but their work’s a world apart from one another’s, though part of the same tradition or continuum. Both were geniuses. Cartier-Bresson pioneered the hand camera and is, to me, the architect of modern photography (others may argue Atget and Evans but I keep coming back to Bresson). Winogrand had the most amazing mentality and made the most amazing photographs –there’s nothing like it, his achievement. He pushed what Bresson defined and perhaps took the aesthetic as far as it could go.


QS: Are you working on a new project now (or, knowing you, should I say "projects"?)

GM: These days I photograph without much of a float plan; no agenda, just wandering aimlessly, as always.

QS: Describe your teaching style.
 GM: Push, don’t shove… and, above all, practice what you preach.

QS: Tell me about Krome. What is it, how did you get there, and how did it affect you? 

GM: The Krome Resettlement Camp borders the Everglades, west of Miami. It was the INS’s detention facility for refugees. I wasn’t especially interested in photographing the Cuban Marielitos (they got plenty of attention and representation) but found the Haitian immigration, a year later, fascinating. Because I wasn’t a journalist, the Camp director gave me unprecedented access for a year. It propelled me to photograph in Miami’s Little Haiti and, next, throughout Haiti.

QS: How long have you been photographing Haiti?
GM: Between 1984 and 2001, I went there about 24 times.

QS: What are the differences between the Haiti you photographed the first time and the last time you were there?
GM: It’s a near-radical difference. “Baby Doc” Duvalier reigned when I first went and the country had a distinctively amazing quality about it–like no other place on Earth. I was one of the very few white people there then; I’d travel and see no other blans. Things changed with the advent of democracy. It’s lost its élan…

QS: How do you approach people for portraits when you are street shooting?

GM: I’ve never thought about portraiture, especially when on the street. I prefer wide-angle lenses so don’t really have those kinds of relationships. Also, my work now spans forty years, and a lot happens for those of use who have stayed the course. In the 70’s work, in South Beach, there were a string of photographs of people in their hotel rooms; I guess these are considered portraits. But I’ve never thought about kinds of photography. It’s all still photography. Today it seems that everyone talks in terms of editorial, documentary, journalism, portraiture, fine art, lifestyle, travel, advertising, studio, commercial, fashion. I don’t get it or think it’s particularly interesting or beneficial.

QS: Have you ever had people react negatively to you taking their photo?
GM: Once or twice, but given the amount of work I’ve done, essentially not.

QS: Have any of the people from Haiti seen the shots you took of them on any of your returning trips?
GM: No. I don’t establish relationships with people easily… or forced. The notion of “getting to know your subject” seems really superficial to me. Even the use of the word “subject” bothers me.

QS: What draws you to a particular person?
GM: I’m not sure, but I can tell you is has nothing to do with the light.

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