This story begins with two photographers: the first one, Christian, a Frenchman living in Arcachon, a little town on the Ocean, 70 km away from Bordeaux. The second one, Valeria, an Italian living in Milan.
They have met by chance in the virtual land of an app called Instagram in 2013, and for the last four years they have been sharing their thoughts about photography through two other apps called Viber and Kik. They have never met in the real world until now, though they have been planning to do that sooner or later. As they share not only a love for photography but also the fact they don’t like talking about their personal work, they have decided to write about one another. This is the first of two articles reassuming a relationship based on reciprocal admiration and a long conversation about the need for photography.
(Within dance the expression pas de deux refers to the number of dancers, men and/or women, performing together a sequence of a ballet or choreography.)
I was a very “young” Instagramer with no awareness of my own work when I first came across Christian Mondot’s photography in 2013. I was making my first steps in the jungle of Instagram when I found his striking bw account (@cclm31) and I was caught off guard by all those images speaking so honestly of their author’s emotional side. It was more or less like when a child perceives the difference between himself and an adult, feeling the shape of authority. Compared to mine, his gallery had no contradictions or random images, but showed a definite strong identity. The most impressive trait to me was that all the images seemed related to one another, like words of a speech, and they were meaningful and soulful despite the absence of a garish subject.
I was in awe of his skillfulness in focusing on humble details, like an old washtub, a newspaper in an abandoned classroom, a closed door.
His extraordinary way of shooting the ordinary showed a contemplative eye to the world and spoke a language full of intimacy to my heart.
I realized in my naive approach to his photography how intensity doesn’t need spectacularity or drama, but rather a moved eye, and how the importance of a subject comes from the story the photographer sees or imagines behind it. Everything can become important when beautifully focused and framed, but it’s not just a matter of technical skill. The impact was strong but it took me a long period of time and more personal consciousness about photography to unfold the mystery and to understand the message hidden behind that work.
Preferred subjects to talk of his inner world are people and nature. Many of Christian Mondot’s photographs don’t feature visible people but rather their absence: melancholic shots like those of abandoned places full of traces left by their passage, empty restaurants frozen in the wait of customers, interiors of churches in the half light without believers.
Sometimes we get the human presence from a sign, like the light coming from a window, or a dog waiting for its master. Through this feel of missing people, Chris seems to talk of a lost Golden Era, full of warm relationships and expectations, like youth is.
These images without people and missing people are gloomy, and fascinate the observer with their ominous power: the unpleasant loss of the Golden Era is unavoidable. In more recent images, the presence of people seems rather to emphasize the serene acceptance of the loneliness of the human condition. Chris shows himself like a lone wolf, bashful and contemplative, loving his rich and multifaceted microcosm.
Nature is his best friend. Chris said to me he often gets lost in the beauty of landscapes, standing alone and totally overcome by the feel of immensity, absorbing the space around him in an impossible desire of symbiosis and waiting until he understands how to take “that” shot. Nature looks like Mother: peaceful, embracing and supportive. This side of Chris’s work suggests a powerful identity with mystical traits.
He is a professional musician, and music never leaves him alone as it is always in his head like a soundtrack. That’s why looking at his photos featuring awesome countrysides or marvelous sea landscapes, I have often sensed a sound, like a whisper, growing until it becomes the din of an orchestra tuning its instruments.
Chris uses a poetic black and white language to tell an endless series of little stories. He has a very personal use of black and white: his black is deep and enveloping, often taking most of the image, sometimes soft like velvet, others very intense and dramatic. Inside it, smooth like a caress or sharp like a blade, the light insinuates itself, showing beauty. He uses his whites coming out of all those blacks like a curtain raised to reveal the truth. It’s a mystical light and I have often felt in awe of his way of engrossing the observer: ravished and sucked inside the frame, we are called to take part.
Christian Mondot’s photography fulfils its author’s wish to engross the observer in his own emotions. These are artistic photographs, evoking much more than they show, involving more than what they feature.
There’s no way to escape a personal participation in these charming stories, so be ready and enjoy them.
You can find Chris on: Instagram | Website
Nei Cruz is not only a talented photographer: when talking of Nei it is impossible to leave out his generosity in supporting the community of Instagram photographers. Nei is a rare case, quite possibly unique on the web, where his generous qualities are probably more known than his photographic skills.
We have asked him to talk a bit of himself with us.
Tell us a little bit about yourself…
I’m not good at talking about myself, so here’s a profile written about me by my friend Ruth Efrati Epstein for Shootermag:
“Nei Cruz has a passion for style and beauty in both his career and personal life. He brings this style to his mobile photography. Nei was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He graduated with a degree in Art Direction from the Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro. Desiring to perfect his craft, Nei moved to the United States 30 years ago. He has worked with several world-renowned photographers and his work has been featured and published in a wide range of editorial magazines, including Vogue, Allure, W, WWD, Elle, L’Uomo Vogue, Cosmo Girl, Lucky, Surface and Essence.
It wasn’t until Nei got his first iPhone that he began to experiment with mobile photography. The arrival of Instagram turned his dabbling with iPhone photography into a passion.
He is as committed to the mobile-photography communities as he is to his photography. Nei is an extremely passionate supporter of many photographers. Many lasting relationships among mobile photographers have begun with an introduction from Nei.
In 2014, Nei became the Editor At Large for Shooter Magazine.
Nei resides in Manhattan, New York City, and continues to work in the fashion industry.”
By Ruth Efrati Epstein @80degrees
Did you study photography at college?
No. I studied Art Direction. However, I’ve worked with amazing photographers all my life.
What inspired you to start shooting and when?
I’ve always loved photography, but I always stayed in the background, art directing, until I got my first iPhone.
When did you decide to use just the iPhone for your photography?
Right after I got my very first iPhone. It was when the iPhone came out. To be able to catch a moment and edit the image all in one device was such a genius idea. I specially started taking more pictures when I joined Instagram.
When did you join Instagram and what does the community mean to you?
I joined Instagram during September, 2010.
I used to delete images as I uploaded new ones. It was completely different than what it is today. There was a wonderful sense of community and you could talk and like images with no limits. No blocking. I miss that time, but I understand that all things change, and we must adapt. It’s a business now. Ever since these changes have been implemented, I lose followers with each post I make, no matter how good an image is, or how good the content is of what’s being posted. But I keep coming back, because of the community. I have made so many wonderful friends. They’re so loyal, encouraging and supportive. Some, I’ve even been able to meet in person. It’s all about the people. It’s also my way of escaping reality. The best thing is to see the world, people and things through someone else’s eyes.
Which camera apps do you use to take photos on the iPhone?
I mostly use the native camera and native tools. I keep it simple.
Which apps do you prefer for editing?
I avoid over editing. If I use a filter, it’s mostly VSCO at the lowest percentage.
I also use Snapseed selective adjusting and sometimes FilterStorm. Again, I try to keep it simple.
Is editing a long process for you?
Not really. It depends on the image, feel and mood I want to create. Besides, I have ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), and no patience to spend too much time on an image.
However, I do spend a lot of time on cropping and aligning. If the image will work, I know it right away. And I usually take one single shot per subject.
I was very surprised to read you use only iPhone even when you work. I’m thinking about a few gorgeous images on your Instagram account taken for a fashion editorial. How was the staff and the model’s reaction when you started shooting with a mobile rather than a professional DLSR ?
At first they are surprised and skeptical. But when I show the image after post production, which I do on my own iPhone, they’re happy and impressed.
In more than one occasion you have mentioned both on your Instagram and Facebook account, of your depression: it seems to be an issue you have been fighting for a long time. Nevertheless, there isn’t any sign of melancholy or sadness in your images, and this condition apparently does not affect your photography, as your images are so full of life and in bright colours.. Has photography been of some help in coping with your depression ?
Absolutely! It’s a wonderful way to get my mind out of that dark feeling. A form to “escape.” I think subconsciously, I try to compensate my depression with “happy images”, for lack of a better word. Depression is a serious illness. I’ve learned over the years how to cope with it. I wish there wasn’t such a negative stigma attached to it. Millions of people suffer alone with this illness. That’s a shame. By talking about it, so many people have reached out and shared that they too suffer from it and they feel connected. The reactions are mostly positive, but sometimes heartbreaking.
Scrolling your gallery on Instagram we see an elegant mix of shots of gorgeous models, street photography, and architecture.
Can you tell us more about these three chosen/preferred kind of photographs?
Honestly, I like all genres of photography. Maybe it is because I’m an art director and have worked with so many brilliant photographers, each with their unique style. I have a special place for portraits. It’s a shame that this genre doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Street photography is really hard for me, but I love the genre. I’m just not good at it, for lack of concentration.
I also love architecture. I tend to prefer clean and well cropped images for that.
What captures your attention when you are around with your iPhone and you are not shooting for work?
Anything. Art in all forms, a moment, a feeling, a person, the environment, movement and even music. Whatever catches my attention.
What and why do you look for when shooting: emotive aspects, reality, or just beauty?
It’s always a mix of all things. A moment, a place, a face, a feeling… I never know what will catch my eye. I “stumble” onto my images. I rarely prepare.
What is beauty, according to you?
Ah! The million dollar question! I don’t think you can define beauty. The cliché says that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” It’s true. It’s so personal! There’s beauty everywhere. Even in something others might consider “ugly”, “unattractive”, or mundane. It’s so hard to explain. I’m not good with words. There’s beauty even in tragic moments.
Photography is an opportunity to let us speak of ourselves in a visual way. What do you want to tell us about you with your images?
I have no specific “message.” Sometimes I publish an image I love, and no one gets it. But if I had a message, it would be for people to think, reflect and feel something. Isn’t that what art is for? To provoke thoughts and feelings?
What does photography mean in your life?
Again, this is a complex question to answer. Like any form of art, it’s my way to express myself. Without art and artists, this world would be a sad and lonely place.
Is there one image in your gallery you love most? And if yes, could you tell us why?
There are several. Mostly they evoke a feeling I had at a specific time and they remind me of that specific time. Also there are some images I love because of a certain “aesthetic.” It’s hard to explain. So personal.
Talking of photography, which are according to you, the most common mistakes a beginner makes?
I’d say images that are not aligned, not thought out, or composed. It drives me crazy to see a horizon that’s not perfectly aligned, for example. But that’s really just my thing.
Do you have any suggestions to give about photography?
Have fun and don’t be afraid of experimenting! Shoot what you like and what intrigues you!
Let me know more about your role in Shootermag.
Shootermag is the first photo magazine published in the world dedicated to mobile photography. I manage and select photographers for the features after carefully looking at their body of work. Shootermag USA was the first country-specific edition, published with only photographers from the USA.
Ruth wrote this about me:
“He is as committed to the mobile-photography communities as he is to his photography. Nei is a passionate supporter of so many photographers and he never fails to add a kind, empathic or supportive word. Through his deep commitment to mobile photography and the sense of community he has found, Nei became in 2014 the USA Editor At Large for Shooter Magazine.”
When talking of Nei Cruz, most of us as former AMPt members, or owners of an account on social sites like Instagram and Facebook, think not only about a talented photographer but also of a generous person supporting other peoples’ work. I think your encouragement has been and is for many of us, very important. What or who made you such a warm person, so communicative and outgoing ?
I’m not sure. I didn’t have a happy childhood. I wasn’t encouraged or accepted for who I was. I know how that feels, so maybe that makes me care about what people feel. Everyone deserves love, respect and encouragement. Maybe it’s just my nature and I was born with a caring personality. I don’t know.
Where can we see your work?
Instagram | Facebook | Twenty20 | VSCO
We find quite an uncommon Barbie in @mssolobarbie‘s account. Here the icon prototype of successful beauty is a normal girl, able to move (her eyes are, if necessary, now blue, now gray, black, cheerful, full of tears for no reason) and to be unhappy (someone said: she has something on her, kind of unhappiness)
It’s a muffled world in which Barbie lives, far away from the limelight; a full collection of 48 dolls is shown in elegant images where vibrant colours are softened by dim light. It’s a gallery full of details where Maria Soldi accompanies her delicate images with words both personal and borrowed. Barbie is shown to us in her everyday life. There’s nothing spectacular in what she does, but she is magical, like special people are. This Barbie is us.
She leads a normal life: goes to the supermarket and cooks homemade pasta, does laundry and goes to the swimming pool and loves being in contact with Nature (the wind ruffles her, with no other purpose than to blow) (and what in the foreground? Ah, whatever, as long as it’s a bird just passing in flight)
We scroll her daily life and her thoughts (every beginning as a matter of fact is a sequel; and the book of events is just half open) and her desire of living all the little things around her femininity (brooches, this or that comb, a twine so that I can say: I don’t regret anything)
Traces of the icon’s mundane aspects are still present, but we find the same attention when showing the pleasure of coming back home.
Mother consoling (why don’t you sleep, my love?), adolescent waiting (as I don’t know when dawn comes, I’ll keep open every door), woman in love (I have to shorten the distance) and determined (if someone is stepping on my feet or pricks me with a pin I feel nothing), fresh bride with traditional white dress (yes, I will) and very private person (no one knows what she does when at home). A soft vignette makes her world separated from ours.
Barbie crosses all the ages of life, without a chronological order. A gallery where “the right balance” is metaphorically between two birds’ weights and where freedom and initiative are shown with an “I fly alone“. What is here still of the Icon? Just a woman receiving flowers, but soon after we find her shining her husband’s footwear…
…sewing a hem, ironing or doing housework. The woman supposed to be an Icon looks in a mirror not to admire herself, but rather to clean it with a spray and catch that instant to reflect about the fact “each mirror gives me different news“.
She is still a bejeweled Barbie sometimes, but jewels are also the raindrops on the window glass (how light is this light in a raindrop). A melancholic beauty, she is not sure about her own loveliness (a face who didn’t know she could be lovely) as often happens to those who are naturally beautiful.
She does not spend her time facing a mirror to admire herself, but rather to love the beauty all around. In spite of all that, she is doubtful about living up to the world’s expectations of someone it deems beautiful. Barbie is a woman whose desires are both simple and deep. But she is aware that she is an icon and accepts her role: the world wants to find hope in a face.
Maria Soldi | @mssolobarbie is a 55 year old Italian photographer living in the north of the Country. As a child she never owned a Barbie, and her playmates didn’t have one. But having since met the famous doll, she has been cultivating a passion she was a little bit ashamed of, until a friend gave her the first Barbie at the age of 40. Since then Maria and Barbie have never left, and now that doll is part of a collection of 48. Maria has enjoyed shooting since she was 18, and the desire to take shots daily, combined with the lack of a model for portraits, made her decide to open an account dedicated to Barbie.
La vita segreta di Barbie
È una Barbie inconsueta quella che ci viene descritta da Maria Soldi nel suo account @mssolobarbie. L’icona prototipo del successo è una ragazza normale che si commuove (ha gli occhi se occorre ora azzurri, ora grigi, neri, allegri, senza motivo pieni di lacrime) e può essere infelice ( qualcuno diceva: ha qualcosa addosso, come una specie di infelicita’ ) . È un mondo ovattato e discreto quello in cui si muove Barbie, lontano dalle luci della ribalta. La collezione di 48 esemplari ci viene mostrata in eleganti immagini dove i colori vibranti sono attenuati dalla penombra. Una galleria piena di dettagli che Maria Soldi accompagna con pensieri propri o presi in prestito.
Barbie è raccontata nella sua quotidianità. Non vi è nulla di spettacolare in quello che fa, eppure è magica, come lo sono tutte le persone speciali: questa Barbie siamo noi. Barbie conduce una vita normale, va al supermercato e fa la pasta in casa, fa il bucato e va in piscina, ama essere in contatto con la natura ( il vento la scompiglia, senza altri motivi se non quello di soffiare ) ( e che cosa in primo piano? Ah, qualunque cosa, purché sia un uccello che stia giusto passando in volo).
Vediamo scorrere insieme alla sua vita quotidiana i suoi pensieri ( ogni inizio infatti è’ solo un seguito e il libro degli eventi è’ solo aperto a metà ) ed il desiderio di vivere tutte le piccole cose attorno alla propria femminilità ( spille, questo e quel pettine, uno spago perché io possa dire: non rimpiango nulla).
Sono ancora presenti gli aspetti mondani (mi metto le scarpe e arrivo) ma vi è altrettanta cura nel descrivere il piacere del ritorno tra le mura domestiche (finalmente a casa). Mamma che consola (non piangere- amore, perché non dormi?), adolescente in attesa (non sapendo quando l alba arriverà tengo aperta ogni porta), donna innamorata ( devo accorciare le distanze) e determinata (se qualcuno mi pesta i piedi o mi punge con uno spillo non sento niente ), fresca sposa col tradizionale abito bianco (si, lo voglio). Ma anche riservatissima (nessuno sa cosa faccia a casa).
Barbie attraversa tutte le età della vita, senza un ordine cronologico. Una galleria dove “il giusto equilibrio” e’ metaforicamente tra il peso di un uccellino e un altro, e dove la libertà e l’ iniziativa viene rappresentata con un “volo da sola” . Dell’icona qui rimane una donna che riceve dei fiori, ma la troviamo poco dopo a lucidare le scarpe del suo compagno (mi prendo cura delle tue scarpe) a cucire, stirare o fare le quotidiane pulizie di casa. Barbie si riflette in uno specchio non per ammirarsi ma mentre lo sta pulendo con uno spray e coglie quell’ istante per riflettere sul fatto che “ogni specchio ha per me notizie differenti“. È ancora una donna ingioiellata, a volte, ma gioielli diventano anche le gocce di pioggia sul vetro ( “quanto è leggero tutto questo in una goccia di pioggia “).
Una malinconica bellezza che non è sicura di se stessa (un viso che non sapeva di poter essere bello), come spesso accade a chi, pur essendo bella, non passa la vita davanti ad uno specchio ad ammirarsi ma piuttosto ammira la bellezza attorno a se’, e si chiede se ne è all ‘ altezza. Barbie è una donna dai desideri semplici e profondi. Ma consapevole di essere anche, per gli altri, un’icona, ne accetta il ruolo : il mondo vuole vedere la speranza sul viso.
Maria Soldi (@mssolobarbie) è una fotografa italiana di 55 anni. Vive in una cittadina dell’Italia Settentrionale e da bambina non ha mai avuto una Barbie, come del resto le sue compagne di gioco. Ma dal momento in cui ha incontrato, più tardi, la famosa bambola, ha coltivato una passione di cui un po’ si vergognava, fino a quando un amico non gliene ha regalata una all’età di 40 anni. Da quel momento in poi Maria e Barbie non si sono più lasciate, e adesso quella prima bambola fa parte di una collezione di 48 esemplari. Maria sin dall’età di 18 anni ama fare fotografie e la necessità di fotografare quotidianamente associata alla mancanza di modelle disponibili per ritratti ha fatto si che si decidesse a creare un account dedicato a Barbie.
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I was more or less a novice on Instagram two years ago, and I can still remember that jaw-dropping feeling when I came across @lumenaire’s account: a guy was sitting as a king on a purple sofa, with a girl lying on another sofa in the background, with her legs artfully saying “Hi!”. Viewing the scene and its elegant composition, the gorgeous staging and the vibrant colours– I was in awe.
I’ll never get over this place.
Instagram is full of users taking shots of their kids, so why is her work so different and impressive?
The answer is in how powerful her characters are; when framed they stop being her children and their friends, and become something important to the observer. Through a superb editing process she turns them into icons of youth: they are there, but far away. Not common human beings, but rather, deities living in another dimension.
I don’t want to hold her down, don’t want to break her crown.
What she does is this: she takes something strictly personal, and gives us rather a timeless sense of youth’s myth. The power of this period of life explodes in her images, through vibrant colours and their bodies’ sensual details.
I’ll be waiting in my trunk, with the engine of your car.
There are many ways of looking at her work, depending on the observer’s eyes. Adolescents may feel a sense of pride and identification. If the observer is a parent, then tenderness, or perhaps a nostalgic sense of the lost golden era of youth for those who are young no longer.
Van Gogh’s favourite swimming hole
Going back to that initial purple sofa, and to the shameless beauty of the scene, I remember the feeling of being a dwarf facing a giant. It wasn’t just an aesthetic result due to a cascade of colours, as compared to my first steps in the black and white world of photography. It was the deep emotion the images conveyed as these shots give us a joyful sensation of the eternity of our dreams.
Right before you forgot about me
There ain’t no other language I know how to speak
Some like their water shallow and I like mine deep so very deep
Tied to the bottom with a noose around my feet …