Featured Artist: Monse Muro

Monse Muro‘s photographs are displayed in a beautiful layout on her Instagram page, whose description reads “borrower of souls for a click or so”. Monse also borrows time, inviting us to stop what we’re doing and take a moment to look around us. Monse is a Mexican-born photographer. She lives in Tio’tia:ke, Canada, where she moved with her family when she was 12, which is also when she got her first camera. When she’s not working on projects with musicians or studying for her MFA, Monse takes photographs on film, everyday, as a part of what she calls an “exercise of looking”. Some of them are intimate portraits of her friends, while others depict small moments from her daily life, like a cut-up lemon on a rag, or plants on a windowsill, but all have in common the same sensitivity and the same attention to detail. Monse stopped with us for an instant to talk about darkroom photography, spirituality, and her favorite poetry books.

Who are you? How did you become a photographer?

My name is Monse Muro. I was born in Mexico City, and lived in Coyoacán for most of my childhood – a very lively and colourful neighbourhood. My family immigrated to Montreal when I was twelve years old and It was around then that I had my first experience with photography. I got a hold of my parents’ camera, and this became a way for me to explore this big change that I was going through. As the years went by, I became interested in learning more about photography. After finishing high school at the age of seventeen, I enrolled in the photography and cinema program at Vanier College [In Canada, students go to college for two or three years after high school to figure out what they want to do before going to university]. It was one of the only colleges in Montreal that still had darkroom photography, and I was really excited to learn about that process. I spent so much time in the darkroom, that the technician that was in charge ended up hiring me to work with him, his name was Dale. I spent hours and hours in the darkroom, and I just fell in love with photography. Then the darkroom closed when the college decided to replace it with photoshop and screens, so I bought some of the equipment from Dale and I built a small darkroom in my parents’ basement. And that was the end of me. I went on to study art and cinema at Concordia University, and here we are. 

What do you do exactly?

There are two sides to my work: the work I do with musicians and my personal photography. Music has always been a big part of my life and a really big inspiration for my photography, so when I had the opportunity to start working with musicians thanks to a good friend of mine named Hanorah, I fully embraced it. I work on album covers, on press photographs, and I’ve been doing that for a couple of years now. My personal photography, which is what you mostly see on my website and on my Instagram, is really just me documenting my everyday life. To me, photography is an exercise of looking. It’s the practice of stopping and looking at something. I think sometimes we’re so caught up in our lives and our own life scenarios, problems, and routines, that we tend to overlook the poetry that lies everywhere. For me, Photography has become the daily practice to stop, see that poetry and encounter it for a moment. I see it as a very specific practice of universality in a way. By taking a photograph of a corner of my house, of light, of a gesture, I hope to be specific while alluding to the universal, to other people’s everyday lives, and their own moments of respite from the outside world, a moment of slowness, of presence. Portraiture is similar in the way that I look for that poetry within a person and the surroundings that they’re in. Mentally, I find it to be an enriching practice to actively look for beauty everywhere. Something I’d like to do for as long as I live.

How did changing countries influence your work?

I think it has helped me become aware of my surroundings and appreciate the little things. It wasn’t really a decisive moment in my photography career, it was just the moment when I was introduced to photography, and it was such an important transition in my life. I arrived somewhere I had no family other than the people I moved there with, I had no idea where we were, I didn’t speak French, I didn’t speak English. So I started to connect to little things during my day or in my surroundings in a different way, a more careful way. I think that’s how it has impacted the way that I now see through my eyes and through the lens. 

How would you describe your aesthetic?

If I had to describe it, I would say my aesthetic is timeless. I don’t wish to portray the moment I live in, nor the technology that comes with it. I don’t want my images to be read as “2020 or 2021.” I also love to work with color in a painterly way, that’s a big part of my aesthetic. 

How did you find it? How has it evolved since you began taking photographs?

When I was out of college, I fell in love with cinema. This is also how I would describe my work, I think my aesthetic is also very cinematic. I went to university to study film production and cinema for four years. Then I realized that all along I had still been taking these photographs everyday and that this was how I felt most comfortable expressing myself, so I went back to photography. I started my Masters in Photography, which I’m still doing now. I began by doing something that felt very true to me, those everyday photographs, and when I entered the world of academia, I started doubting myself. Academia is great, there are many good things about it, but in the context of art school I think that sometimes it kills the art that’s already in us. It surely did that for me, and I know I’m not the only one. I have a good friend who’s also a photographer, and I saw how it dimmed her light and her enthusiasm. It did that for me a little, so I kind of veered off and tried different aesthetics that didn’t feel authentic to me. It was fun, it was a way for me to explore different things, and to finally come back to what I really wanted to be photographing and looking for. I realized that what I had been doing since the beginning is what I truly wanted to be doing with my photography. Now I have the tools to explain it, to understand it, and to assert it. 

What inspires you? Which artists have influenced your work the most?

I’m inspired by a lot of things: music, poetry, books. I’m less inspired by photography itself than by things that surround it. I’m inspired by artists whose work does not necessarily look like what I’m doing. Wolfgang Tillmans is someone that comes to mind of course. Hans Haacke, who makes work that has nothing to do with what I do, mostly installations, but I strongly resonate with what he has done throughout his career. Siân Davey’s portraits that I think are exquisite. She documents her family, mostly her kids as they grow up and enter adulthood. There’s also Ragnar Kjartansson, who’s an Icenlandic artist. He makes work around theater, performance, and music. One of my favorite pieces of his is called “The Visitors,” I saw it at the MAC in Montreal and I went back five times to see it, just beautiful. These are artists whose work resonates with me in a quasi spiritual way. Two film directors that I love are: Pavel Pawlikowski, who is Polish, and Carlos Reygadas, who is Mexican. I’m also hugely inspired by the people who surround me, and friends that I’m lucky to have in my life. Whether it’s musicians like my friends Hanorah and Ada Lea,  my good friend Alice Cloutier-Lachance, who is also a photographer from Montreal, or my friend Brandon Brookbank who works in the intersection of photography and sculpture. I’m very fortunate to be surrounded by people who inspire me daily. 

How do you work? What are the different steps in the making of a photograph?

I’m very spontaneous in the way that I photograph. Whether I’m travelling to Mexico to visit family or at home, I always make sure I have my camera with me, loaded. On the other hand, the work that I do with musicians is a lot more planned. I need to choose the outfits, the location,… And mostly, to create a sense of trust whenever I do portraiture, which is a big part of my work. I need to make the person I photograph comfortable in front of this machine which feels offensive. Someone points that at you and all of a sudden your face is twitching in ways you never thought it could. A lot of the work I do with portraiture is about getting the other person to collaborate with me, to trust me, and to come along for the dance. 

How do you build that trust?

I spend a lot of time with the person, I try to be very mindful with my words, and I make sure that they feel like they’re in control of the photograph as much as I am. I don’t know exactly how it happens. There isn’t a recipe for it, but it’s in the way that I choose my words or move around them with care. It’s beautiful when a certain level of trust is reached and freedom happens on both sides of the lens. My favourite images always happen in these vulnerable moments of play.  

Have you ever wanted to experiment with other art forms? Cinema, I’m guessing? 

Yes, very much! The thing about cinema is that it’s very complex and many people are involved. I do work on music videos for artists, which is a small way for me to experiment with… well, not cinema, because it’s a whole other world, it’s so much more intense! The moving image let’s say. But the other art forms that I would love to explore are writing, which I believe to be a beautiful art form. I already write a lot, but I would like to explore it even further. I would like to make a book with my photographs and prose, since I mostly write prose. And pottery! That’s another art form that I would like to learn and experiment with. 

What was your favorite experience in your career?

I feel like my career is just starting, so I hope that the best moments are still to come. In what I have done so far, I’ve learned a lot from assisting other artists, assisting other photographers. It made me think about what kind of photographer I want to be, and what kind of presence I want to have for other people. Just being able to share my photographs and to talk about them is an important experience, kind of like what we’re doing right now! I’m a bud, still. 

Is there anything you’d like to accomplish in your career?

It’s hard to plan anything these days with the virus, but I would love to have my first solo show, which I’m beginning to plan, sometime in the next couple of years. That would be a big accomplishment. I’m also really looking forward to this project that I began when I was 25. It is a lifelong project, and it would be the biggest accomplishment in my career. Every year on my birthday, I ask someone to take a photograph of me, a full-body nude portrait. I would like to do that every year, shot on 35mm or medium format, until I’m old enough that I can still print the photographs and turn it into a show. Finally, I think that the biggest accomplishment I can hope for, which is related to both my professional and my personal lives, is to find that sweet balance between living a life that feels true to me and producing work that is done with my heart. How to master the art of living a life that works for me.

What would you like people to feel through your work?

I would like them to look at my work and be able to take a deep breath. To allow them to have a moment with whatever they’re seeing. I would like my images to make people want to stop and have a moment, not only with the photographs but with themselves. That’s really important to me. Not sure if this is what happens but that is what I’m hoping for! 

What have you been watching, listening to, and reading lately?

I’ve retreated from watching anything lately. I think it’s because I’ve been spending so much time working on the computer that I don’t want to be looking at a screen anymore. The last thing I watched was the TV series Euphoria. It’s amazing, I love the way it’s filmed and the use of color. It’s very intense, not something I would recommend before going to bed. I recently read On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. I think it’s probably my favorite book now. The way that he writes is just beautiful. I also love his poetry, I recently got his collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds. I’m completely taken by his work. I also always find myself going back to this book titled The Poetic Space by Gaston Bachelard. I feel like every time I read it something new comes up. I’m a huge music fan, I spent my entire high school years with headphones on. Recently, I discovered this album called Bonny Light Horseman in the folk, americana genre, beautifully recorded. I’ve also been into Oneohtrix Point Never, on the electronic side of things. I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts, and one that I really love is On Being with Krista Tippett. She invites people from different fields to interview them and discuss ideas, it’s very inspiring. 

What is next for you?

I think it is tied to what I said before about finding a life that suits me. Projects with my agency (which is mostly music-related work), planning my solo show… My partner and I want to buy land and a little house in Slovakia, where he’s from, which is not possible right now because we can’t travel. I would like to build my own studio there eventually, which is a long term project as well. But mostly just finding that balance of life, work, and figuring out how I want to be living my everyday life is very important to me. I hope good things are coming!

Is there a question you wish I had asked you?

Questions that I would find interesting would be : 

Is there another field that interests you aside from art? 

What is your spiritual background? 

I feel like whenever we talk about art or whenever we enter the academic world, we tend to shy away from spirituality, but whenever I look at work that has a profound effect on me, it feels like an almost spiritual experience. 

What are the answers to these questions?

For, “Is there another field that interests you aside from art? “, I’m really interested in psychology and mental health, in wellbeing and, oddly, physiotherapy. I keep watching physiotherapy videos and I can’t stop. I’m really interested in movement and anything kinetic that’s related to the body.

And for the second one, “What is your spiritual background?” I should have thought this through! I really like this question, it’s one that Krista Tippet always asks the people that she interviews… I didn’t grow up in a religious family. My dad grew up Jewish and my mom grew up Catholic, but we never went to church or even really spoke about it. But my mom always instilled in me a sense of trust in life, in how things unfold, and she taught me to allow for that to happen, with the good and the bad. That sense of trust that if you do things that feel true to you, things in life will unfold accordingly. So I guess a sense of trust in life is my spiritual background. 

Monse Muro is a Mexican born photographer, living and working in Tio’tia ke (Montréal).

Her work includes portraiture and moments of her everyday life, both documented with cinematic sensitivity and a keen eye for poetic detail. 

She is currently an MFA candidate in Photography at Concordia University, and represented by Juste Du Feu.You can see more of Monse’s work on her website or her Instagram.

Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, prose, reviews, and interviews from marginalized creators.