Interview with Exhibitions Without Walls

I recently had the honor of being interviewed by Exhibitions Without Walls (EWW). This  group and it’s founders have a special place in my heart. About two years ago I decided to make the move away from the more secure portrait work I was doing to focus my attention on my fine art photography. For the first time in years I considered submitting to juried competitions. It had been so long since looking at my work in a more artistic way that I was hesitant to even submit, but I came across a call for submissions with EWW and took a chance.
Much to my surprise, I won Best in Competition for the Structures exhibition! Not only was this a huge boost to my self-confidence related to my work but along with winning the competition I also won a media package, which involved working with one of the co-founders on creating marketing materials. I cannot begin to tell you how helpful this was since I did not attend art school (or business school) and was basically trying to learn how to deal with the business side of photography as well as start working toward developing a more defined photographic style. This could not have happened at a better time. To this day, I feel like the founders are still there for support and I have often contacted them for advice. I am truly grateful to EWW.
Below is the interview in it’s entirety. But please take the time to visit their site, where they also feature some of my recent work within the interview, and to see the work of other wonderful artists.
Milwaukee Art Museum - Calatrava - Angie McMonigal Photography 1
What I mean by “perceptions of common subject matter” is that we are surrounded by buildings and urban scenes when we live in a large city like Chicago and people are always rushed and passing by places without really noticing what’s around them. What I try to do with my photography is show a different view of these scenes that may not be noticed without taking the time to study the environment a bit more. I’m trying to show the viewer a different way to perceive their environment by taking portions of the city’s architecture and creating an abstraction or isolating a select area to put the focus on only that portion.
EWW:  In your opinion what do you see as the difference between photojournalism and Photographic Fine Art?
Angie:  Photojournalism is something that has to have absolute truth to it, no altering the scene during editing; no removing portions to make a cleaner image. The photographer should be documenting an event or telling a story through their images. Trying to get to the truth of what is happening in front of them. I think it can be tricky because based on how the image is framed and what elements the photographer chooses to include or not include in the frame can change the whole context of the story. I think there’s a responsibility to show the truth.
In Fine Art Photography I believe you have complete free will, you can change whatever you like in an image –remove distracting elements, add whatever effects you like, manufacture a story. Anything you like to create the image and story you want to tell. I think it has more to do with the imagination and vision the photographer wants to convey.
EWW: What do you see as the elements of a photography that move it from being merely photographic and into Fine Art Photography?
AngieThis is a tough question. All art is so entirely subjective that what I consider art can vary drastically from what another person perceives as art. I think Fine Art Photography can cover a large gamut of styles and interpretations.
I think an important element is whether it evokes an emotion when being viewed? Whether it stirs awareness, disgust, happiness or a sense of calm. Does the viewer feel like they are a part of the image in some way? I think if the photographer can do this, it elevates their work to a higher artistic level.
Intent on the photographers end is also key, even if the intent is just to create a beautiful image. Having a consistent style and perhaps subject matter helps to define what you’re trying to say with your work.
EWWMuch of your work is in Black and White.  How do you decide when to develop something in either Black & White or in color?
AngieI tend to prefer my images in black and white. Even when shooting I can generally tell that the final image will be shown in b&w. Oftentimes I think the simplicity of the lines and form of my images is best portrayed in b&w without the distraction of color. But there are times when an image has such vibrant colors that it just works better to remain in color.
EWW: Do you have any style that seems to repeat itself from one work to another, such as color, composition, perspective, etc.?
Angie:  I have a tendency to keep my images as simple as possible. I like clean lines, little distraction and minimalistic patterns. I generally prefer black and white for any architectural work I create because I think it keeps within that minimalistic approach and simplifies the scene. I also seem to prefer symmetrical framing. If you can’t tell, I like things to have a sense of order and organization—in my work and life. For good or bad, I can be a bit of a control freak.
EWW:  Is there a message you are trying to convey to the viewer of your work?
Angie:  I’d say the overall message, whether it’s with my more abstract architectural work or the broader urban landscapes, is to show the viewers various ways in which to see their everyday environment. To slow down a little and take the time to look at what they see everyday in a new way and appreciate how something that appears on it’s surface one way has many facets that can only be appreciated if the time is taken to look closely and pay attention.
EWW: Tell us about your training in photography?
Angie:  For the most part I’m a self-taught photographer. It’s definitely an ongoing and continuous process. When I started I read a lot of magazines and books and generally practiced shooting in different situations to learn how my camera and lenses worked.
After a few years of this I took some classes at the Chicago Photography Center. At that time I was shooting in film and developing and printing everything in the darkroom. That may also be why I have a tendency to prefer b&w, that’s how I really learned the whole editing process.
In 2006 I converted to digital and that was one long learning curve for me! A lot of trial and error with the editing, books read, YouTube videos and swearing at the computer.
It’s all an ongoing process for me and I’d say in the last 2 years is when I’ve finally developed my style and understood what I’m most passionate about in terms of photography. I’m still figuring it out but feel I’m in a much better place in terms of defining what I want to say with my photography than I was in the past.
I think photography, by its nature, is something that you’re constantly learning, it changes so quickly and often that you have to keep learning.
EWW: What do you see as major challenges for photographers today?
Angie:  The biggest challenge is the over saturation of photographers or people who think they’re photographers. It’s difficult to market yourself and your work when so many people think they can do what you do just because they have a camera. I think because of this, much of photography can be devalued. I don’t think there’s an appreciation of it from the public like other art forms, such as painting or sculpture. It’s really unfortunate.
Also, there are so many photographers that sell their work for so little that making any kind of living from photography can be extremely challenging. I think by doing this they undermine the whole art form of photography and depreciate the value of their work as well as other photographer’s work.
EWW: What are the major challenges you see for fine art photographers and digital fine artists today in terms of marketing and promotion?
Angie:  I do think social media and the various online sites for selling photography are hugely beneficial to photographers and any artist today. There’s so much free exposure you can get this way that wasn’t possible in the past.
But that being said, I sometimes think this can be a problem. People are bombarded with choices and some sites that sell work don’t have any standards as to what is available. It’s the over saturation of photography again that I think can get in the way. I think it’s hard to be heard or seen when there is so much coming at you from all levels of quality.
EWW:  Do you use film or digital?  If you have a preference, why?
AngieI use digital and much prefer it to film. I am a very impatient person and the digital workflow just suits me better. Honestly, if film were the only option I’m not sure I’d ever be able to find the time to create any photography. I have two small children, a 5 year old daughter and 2 year old son, and with digital I can be home working on my photography and be available to them. The photographing could be done regardless but the processing and editing is the time consuming aspect of photography and I have no idea when I’d find the time to spend hours in a darkroom at this stage of my life, so I am very grateful for the digital workflow.
EWW:  Besides a camera, is there any “must have” equipment/software that a photographer needs to have in order to be successful?
Angie:  I use LR3 and CS6, I don’t know that it’s a must have for everyone, but it is for me. Tripods are also very helpful.  I also think having a vision, passion, determination and resiliency are most definitely must-haves in order to be successful.
EWW:  What advice would you give to a photographer or digital artist just beginning their career?
Angie:  I still feel like I’m in the beginning of my photography career so I’m not sure I’m the best person to give advice. But so far, for me, I’ve learned to find my style and not get distracted by other projects that come up that may not be beneficial to what I’m most passionate about, even if they pay better. That has been a very long lesson and one I still struggle with.
Don’t take rejections personally. It’s hard not to, but it will happen—a lot. But the right thing will fall into place when the timing is right.
EWW: Angie, Is there anything else that you would like for people to know about you and your work?
Angie:  Nothing I can think of. But thank you for the interview and for those who took the time to read it and check out my work. I greatly appreciate it!



0 Responses

  1. Super interview, Angie, and I particularly like the way you finished it off. "I’ve learned to find my style and not get distracted by other projects that come up that may not be beneficial to what I’m most passionate about".
    Perfect words at so many levels.
    Learning to find one's style is such a good insight. It isn't just about taking photographs in the hope that a style will slowly but surely bubble to the top. It is (I think) about developing an empathy with the things you love to photograph because through this empathy new and unique insights will occur. And in time those insights will be connected by a common thread - aka style!
    Thanks again for a super read.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read Tom! Your words on style are so much more eloquently put than I could mange, but I completely agree.
      I think it is one of the most challenging aspects when beginning photography; it certainly has taken me a very long time to figure out what I'm most passionate about with my photography and therefore figure out what my style really is and what I want to convey. Slowly but surely it's happened and once it does, I think the work begins to connect with others in a more significant way.

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