“Photography forces me to slow down and pay better attention.”
Monica Denevan is a contemporary photographer currently based in San Francisco, California, US.
She studied photography at “San Francisco State University”.
“The first time I traveled to Burma, I knew very little about the country and it’s politics. I remember being struck by the meditative beauty of the landscape, the sensory chaos of the cities, and the quiet elegance of the people. As I read and learned more about the history and political situation, it seemed as though the only news and images coming from the country were exceedingly negative and ugly.
Most tourists are kept away from this reality, myself included. I wanted to photograph the people I was spending my time with: the men and boys who joked around with me and each other, the girls whose laughter was so sweet, the friends I had tea with, the familiar faces we’d meet on the road, and soon my days were all about making pictures. What I was drawn to were the areas outside the cities, the villages next to the river, where fishermen and their families lived and worked.
In that spare and graphic river setting, I made intimate portraits, mostly of the men I encountered, in isolated and stylized poses. Returning to those places annually developed an ongoing series, yet more importantly it familiarized me with the rhythm of the landscape, and connected me to a small group of people who kindly allowed me to photograph them.
My impression is that much of the country looks like early 20th century images and I kept my version of that look in mind as I made my photographs.”
Interview with Monica Denevan
Monica, why did you become a photographer? And what does photography mean to you?
Photography, for me, has always been about connecting with people. I love the collaborative quality of making portraits; the intuitive and verbal communication, and the time allowed to look closely at and almost study someone. Photography forces me to slow down and pay better attention. It has taught me to see details, quality of light, form, line, and gesture. All of which has made interacting with the world, without my camera, more dynamic. It’s also very fun.
What’s your favorite inspirational quote about photography?
“You don’t take pictures; the good ones happen to you.”
What kind of camera and equipment do you use?
I travel and work with my Bronica medium format camera, one lens, a couple of plastic bags full of film, and a digital point and shoot.
What’s your favorite website about photography?
What book about photography would you recommend?
“At Work” by Annie Leibovitz. I like reading about her process and hearing her voice in relation to individual photographs.
Which advice would you give someone who wants to become a (professional) photographer?
Join photo groups like Center and Texas Photo Society, and submit to their call for submissions. Attend Photo Reviews and exhibition openings. Follow photo blogs. Use social media and let people know what you are doing. Be patient.
Which photographer has inspired you most?
I have been influenced by many artistic disciplines in addition to photography. However, when I was photographing in Latin America, I looked at Martin Chambi’s work at great deal. I’ve always enjoyed the cinematic quality of early Avedon; the spare, shapeliness of all things Irving Penn; and Steichen’s lush fashion work.
How would you describe your photographic language and creative process? How do you plan and execute a project? Both technically and conceptually?
All of my images are constructed, not candid. When I return to Burma, I rarely plan photos in advance unless there was a particular image that didn’t work the last time that I want to improve upon. I’ve learned that planning is almost futile and when it’s forced or not working, things get frustrating, quickly. So, I make my images spontaneously although there are many logistics involved.