Monty Kaplan’s bewitching photography captures the inanimate and makes it vividly alive. The supernatural essence of the temporal is bought to life with bold colours and contrast, shadows and light. The effect is a stunning composition from haunting streets to clear sunny days. The natural transience of our world is captured and enhanced.
Words by Jessica Johns
Hailing from Buenos Aires, photographer Monty Kaplan was born in the capital but was moved to the province as a baby. "I had a very suburban childhood. We didn't move much when I was a kid, but my parents did travel quite a lot and they would often take my sister and I on these trips outside the country, usually to destinations in Europe or the US. This made me aware of the immensity of the world and it's possibilities from a very early age. That had a big impact on my life, in all aspects of it, including artistically. It was a double edge sword though, on the one hand it was amazing because this being pre-internet days, I had access to information, to culture, to places the likes I had never even imagined. But it was also like a fucking drug. I needed more. I became completely addicted to traveling, and decided that my country was not interesting at all. I convinced myself that there was this fantastic amazing life waiting for me somewhere else, which made my life in Argentina, pretty miserable from then on. I resented everything about it and I needed to escape, one way or another."
One destination that Kaplan escaped to was Miami. "I actually used to be a filmmaker, which had been my dream ever since I was around seven years old. My career in filmmaking never quite took off in the way I had hoped. After I shot my first feature film, which turned out to be a complete nightmare, I decided I was done with it. I was twenty-eight at the time and I moved to Miami, which is where my career as a photographer actually started. The career was sparked out of ‘boredom’. I had nothing to do there (Miami). I wasn't working much and I was living in a city that I hated, but I endured it because I didn't want to be in Argentina either, which I hated even more. I was basically frustrated with all things in my life. Finally one day I stopped moping around, picked up my camera and went out on this very long walk, which eventually turned into a routine, which eventually lead to a pretty massive body of work."
"I think any artist should try different ways of expressing their thoughts, and fears, and visions, because also each new discipline will give you new tools to achieve ideas, and this in turn will change your perspective of your art, and more importantly of the world."
The independence offered by photography is what clenched the deal between artist and medium. "It is so immediate and you need so little to do it. A huge part of my frustration as a filmmaker was that every single time I wanted to shoot something I depended on so many other people, so many factors, half of the energy for the project went out the window by the time I had managed to gather everything needed. In contrast, all I needed to take photos was my camera in my hand. It wasn't the first time I had showed an interest in photography; I had been taking photos for a very long time, but it was the first time i thought to myself that there might be something there beyond a hobby."
As well as photography, graphic design is another medium that inspires Kaplan; "I remember when I was very young I used to make these silly album covers for non-existent bands I had created. I used to love that. Lucky for me, that’s also my actual job now, so it’s a dream come true. I don't have my door closed to anything really. I would never limit myself in that way. I think any artist should try different ways of expressing their thoughts, and fears, and visions, because also each new discipline will give you new tools to achieve ideas, and this in turn will change your perspective of your art, and more importantly of the world’.
I was interested in which photographers had influenced Kaplan over the years to which he believed the amount was vast but was unsure who had been the greatest influence; "Maybe all of them? Maybe none of them? I don't really see my work linked to any other photographer not because I'm so original and my stuff is something that has never been seen before. But because I don't try and dissect the DNA of my photos. I think it's dangerous to do that, then you'll start second guessing yourself, having doubts, you'll start to see patterns. I think it's poisonous. I love to see photos. Of old and new photographers alike. I do that every single day. But I never think in terms of ‘oh this is kind of what I did, or what i'm doing. I just go ‘damn that's cool, or jeez what a piece of shit photo’.
Monty’s work often centres around the temporal. The seasons, day and night are vividly captured to stunning affect with bold colours, contrast and lighting. "At my core I am interested in change and transformation. I am a big believer that the only constant thing in the universe, and therefore the lives of every single living organism in it, is change. I'm very keen on nature, because as natural beings, we can understand that everything is in this on going process. It's not that something has a beginning, middle and end. It certainly has stages of beginnings, and middles, and endings, but nothing just starts, or just ends. When it starts over, it is never the same. It's a new beginning that corresponds to what came before and holds inside, what it will come later; an eternal conversation."
"One of my favourite written lines ever, is from Moore's 'Watchmen', when the character of Ozymandias/Adrian is pondering about the terrible thing he's done in service of a greater good, and he asks Dr. Manhattan if he did the right thing "In the end?", to which Manhattan dryly replies, "In the end? Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends". As for photography's part in the whole thing, I think it holds a very special place in the process, because it's a documenting tool. It's a snapshot of a specific time in that on going process. I guess as any other photographer, or artist for that matter, i'm trying to show something through my particular perspective. What the audience may end up seeing and/or feeling may differ. But I suppose I'm opening my head and giving you my version of the world."
The theme of change is prevalent in the choice of subject in Kaplan's photography. As well as translating the seasons the bold style of photography, the strong colours and deep contrast more often present objects and places with an absence of people. ‘I don't really like most people. I find them very uninteresting. Paradoxically, I find the objects that people create very interesting indeed. The world we have made for ourselves is very telling. It's a constant story of change. Change of ideas, change of behaviour, change of taste. You can look at a building, or a glass, a car, or a set of keys, it can be anything but it's telling you something. It speaks volumes about where it came from, who made it and why. Another more specific reason for this is that i am an insufferable perfectionist. I want my shot the way I want it and it has to look perfect. Sometimes taking photos of people is all about capturing a fleeting moment, more than a precise calculated shot. I don't care for that kind of photography. In other words, I can't be loosing light giving directions to people until they are in the exact perfect position I need them to be. They are a hassle. This has proven a particularly tough challenge lately since I’ve been working a lot on portrait photography for musicians. There's always this note that they hit me back with like "Don't you have another shot? I look so and so in this one", and i'm thinking "Shut the fuck up, that's an amazing shot, who gives a shit what you look like?!" Then i pause and remember, oh right... It's kind of my job to make you look good."
"Objects certainly are made interesting. The use of colour and lighting along with absence of physical life gives collections a supernatural bewitching character, particularly prevalent in collections such as Night Crawler and Close Up." Kaplan attributes this to creating a different translation of the visible universe, drawing on the ambiguities offered. "I'm very big on ambiguity, because i think it's the concept that comes closest to what everything in the universe is, in the sense that things are not, this way, or that way. There are no absolutes, no black and white."
"As humans, we are the worst offenders of thinking we are the centre of the universe. No other animal on this planet has that egotistic attitude towards everything that surrounds them (Maybe cats... Those little pricks). Every single day of our lives is constructed in terms and rules and regulations that we ourselves have invented and that for many seem written in stone. To that I always say, fuck it. Not because I’m a rebel, but because it is so amazingly dumb and short sighted! What gives us the right to say what is acceptable and what isn’t? What is valid what is not. What you can say, or think? There's always this necessity of trying to define everything. I like questions. Questions are always interesting, they broaden your mind, answers close doors in a very abrupt way. More specifically, I think that when I do something, anything, any type of interaction with the world, there's a bit of myself in that. I think this is true of all of us. So as photographer, when I work I’m putting many things of myself in there, it's always my vision. My vision is intwined with my experience, with things that have happened to me, the places I've been and the people I’ve interacted with. It's all in there."
Kaplan’s need for change drives him to different destinations to capture his art. Big cities to forests, beaches to jungles, opposing environments inspire him and travel is a constant part of his life. Currently based in Argentina, he is disillusioned with the artistic scene there; "It has a long history of copying things from other more interesting sources, so it's very challenging to find something fresh, or at least it is for me. There are of course quite a few exceptions, but for the most part, I think here it's, as the saying goes, all hat no cattle (all talk, no action). There's also a pretty shitty economic aspect to it. It's very hard to find a job (let alone an interesting one!) that can really pay all the bills. There is a lot of nepotism going around, and me being a bit of a hermit and not very interested in interacting with anyone, ever, you can imagine I don't get that much work coming my way. But I would say the biggest struggle about Argentina is the insecurity we live with. It kills me a little bit more every day not to be able to go out with my camera and do what i love to do most. But there's just too much danger, to much risk of getting out of the house with the equipment."
Berlin is somewhere Kaplan would like to be based in. "I’ve been there four times now, and every time i go back i fall a little bit more in love with it. There's this special aura about it, I can't put my finger on it. I'd wager a place like New York, or even Buenos Aires, offers more in terms of quantity of artistic activities, but something about the quality of the things I’ve seen and experienced in Berlin, just gets to me. I would never say it's the best place for an artist to live, that's a very subjective thing. But it is very much a place I feel comfortable in." Kaplan is currently working on a new series which is almost done and is working on getting new ideas of the ground. We look forward to seeing these new collections and basking in the vivid bewitching photographs he creates.