005 / 24 July 2014 / FEATURES
Photography by Monet Lucki
In Conversation with Olivia Kendall
Known for images that hint at the raw, darker, subversive qualities of beauty, Monet Lucki is something of an anomaly in the world of fashion photography. Olivia Kendall chats with New York based photographer on technology, memories, and how sexuality comes to play in her work.
Olivia Kendall: What I've seen of your work so far has a compelling, sly quality – the images of people all read as portraiture to me, which I don't identify in most fashion/editorial photography. Most editorial photography I see tends to be beautiful and technically very well done, but it lacks character. Yours doesn't. When you're working with another human, how do you connect with them in a way that lets their personality come through?
Monet Lucki: I'm glad you noticed the difference in my work – it’s heavy on the portraiture. When I’m working with subjects, generally I just have them stand in front of me, and I start to photograph them. I watch and analyze the way they instinctively move and begin to grasp a sense of their persona. From there, I either continue with the natural flow, or, if I don’t feel an immediate connection, I direct slight variations in posture and expression and they generally understand my guidance.
OK: What kinds of early experiences shaped your aesthetic perception?
ML: Well, for one, I was lucky to be born of two parents who are very artistic themselves. My mother inherited a lot of old furniture and paintings from her grandmother. I remember as a child there was this really creepy painting in our living room of a girl in a red velvet floor length dress sitting very straight up in a chair. She had this cold, dead stare. Every time my brother and I would pass through the room, we felt like her eyes followed us wherever we went. It always terrified me, but now that I think back on it, the lighting in my portraits is almost exactly the same as the lighting in that painting.
My father had very interesting taste in music, which I think has forever shaped the way that I connect with and utilize music as a main source of imagination. When I was younger, in the car he would play Cibo Matto, Portishead, Tricky, and Björk. By young I mean like, seven years old. I remember sitting in the back of the car, trying to listen to the words, but not being able to understand what they were saying. I would just feel the vibe of the sounds and I would see things, places, and people. All of the music he would play was very visually “heavy” for me, and it’s music I still listen to today for inspiration.
OK: What was the watershed moment you had growing up where you looked at a piece of art, or put on a piece of clothing, or cut your hair, or heard a song and thought "Yes. This is it. This is a part of me now”?
ML: I think actually this happened to me a few weeks ago, when I finally decided to be an adult and cover up my old “high school tattoos,” and put pieces that actually mean something to me on my body.
OK: How do you think hyper-mediation has impacted the way people form their identity (and maybe more importantly, how they transmit it to the outside world)?
ML: Cyborg nation.
OK: How does embodiment figure into your work, either in the way you shoot/create or the way your try to portray models? I wanted to say sexuality rather than embodiment, but I think embodiment contains the dimension of sexuality and also a more comprehensive philosophy of what it means to be a physical, 3-D organism who is forced to reconcile their spatial relationship with the rest of the world.
ML: Beautiful question. The majority of my portraits and fashion work are very void of sexuality. If anything, there are lots of elements of androgyny, and "raw beauty".
I don't really want anyone to look at my work and view it sexually in any sort of way. I think being a lesbian perhaps has influenced the way in which I shoot women and men, but how... I’m not exactly sure.
OK: Where does discipline (of all kinds) come in to your work as an artist? Or into who you are as a person?
ML: Discipline is almost second nature to an artist. I practice discipline in patience, and make sure not to get too ahead of myself. And to always keep in mind that I am never finished. There is always something more to say. I think it’s important to stay humble, and to challenge myself to shoot things I'm not comfortable with – for example this project for Tabula Rasa. I never thought I would have gone in a documentary direction for this magazine, but by choosing to do so, that was in a sense, me disciplining myself into trying something different.
OK: How do you feel about this shoot for Tabula Rasa? Did it challenge you in any weird, new ways?
ML: This shoot for Tabula Rasa was a huge departure for me, and completely out of my comfort zone. But there were challenges throughout the shoot that led to beautiful outcomes. Going into this project with a documentary standpoint gave me room to walk on the set with no idea of what the outcome would be. I’m very used to having control in nearly all aspects of my photographs, so to let this go, and take on the role of a “fly on the wall” was challenging.
I think another huge challenge was the fact that I was robbed of my camera and all my gear while I was in Miami shooting a section of this story, which unfortunately will never be seen.
OK: If money, space, and time were not limitations, what would your ideal working conditions be? Your own studio? The street? A group of people who you can keep on retainer as muses?
ML: I would have no limitations at all. I would shoot everyone, everywhere, anytime as an archive. I would then refer back to these photos and combine them with one another to come up with new ideas.
In terms of where, while I enjoy being in the studio, I enjoy being on location just as much. Generally I prefer shooting portraits in studio, to black out the background and focus on all the details of facial structure. I think this can get lost when incorporating an environment.
OK: What, to you, is the difference between change and transformation?
ML: Immediately when I read the word change next to the word transformation, I think change sounds a lot more abrupt. I think transformation is more of a slow, evolutionary term. It is a process with the acceptance of patience. Change sounds both more sudden and intuitive.
OK: For anyone who's moved by your work to make visual art, what can you recommend?
ML: Personally, I would recommend simply surrounding yourself with constant inspiration; making sure you are challenged visually and that being in the company of people who inspire you is really important. Sometimes when your work is at a standstill, being around others who are in the middle of producing a project can trigger ideas or get creative energy flowing.
I also keep a notebook and write often. I have started, when walking around, to look at everything like it’s a photograph, constantly, to the point where I feel overstimulated just from looking all around. I also try to archive imagery I like and refer back to it. I think it’s really important to have a growing archive that you can refer back to when you’re stuck. It’s crazy how many times I’ve gone back to the same pictures year after year, and come up with a different idea for my own shoot based on that small group of pictures. The ideas will never be the same.
OK: If your apartment were on fire, what three things would you save?
ML: My diaries, my hard drive, and my box of film prints from when I was 13.
OK: What are you addicted to? Technology, Tony Curtis movies, the smell of gasoline?
ML: I don’t know that I would call this an addiction but I am very interested in asking questions, and to really dig deep into understanding people I find interesting in my life. I have always been interested in the different psychological complexities that humans embody.
A less complicated answer would be black ice coffee, women, "inline rollerblading", and traveling.