Sean Mundy is a 22 year old self-taught conceptual and portrait photographer who was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
For most of his life Sean’s passion laid mainly in music. To this day music is still a huge part of his life and creative process.
During high school Mundy’s parents gifted him his first Polaroid digital camera, and shortly after he saved up for his first DSLR. Mundy creates images that are simplistic, rich with meaning, and full of narrative. He wants people to see meaning in his pictures where he never intended there to be meaning. He is drawing inspiration from simple sources, a single feeling, moments in life or nature.
Please join us in this insightful interview with 22 year old self-taught photographer Sean Mundy. He chats with us about completing his “52 weeks” project, his creative process (including sketches and before/afters), surrealism, and much more. Enjoy!
Tell us, how did you become interested in photography?
I got into photography thanks to my parents buying me a small Polaroid digital camera for a school trip when I was in high school. I had never really thought of taking photos to document what I was doing when I was younger, but after the trip I began to do that for a few years, then I saved up for a DSLR and eventually began planning out ideas for photos and shooting them. I was more into music when I was younger than anything else, but I still do dabble with it and hope to take it more seriously as I’ve done with photography.
Do you have any formal training in photography or are you self-taught for the most part?
I consider myself pretty much self taught, but I did take night classes for a year in a commercial photography program after finishing my initial program during the day (not quite college/university, the education system is different here in Quebec). I was also working at the school’s bookstore throughout the year so it was very convenient. I dropped out of the program after a year because I found myself wanting to go at my own pace and doing more of what I wanted to do in photography instead of doing assignments that I didn’t really care for, but I did enjoy most of my time there and met some pretty cool people.
What inspires you?
I am or can be inspired by pretty much any form of art (sculpture, installation art, painting, photography, music etc), but I try to not just be inspired by one thing in particular that I can trace back to a single source. Sometimes ideas for images just come to me, and sometimes I make ideas for images happen by combining various things; a colour palette I want to work with, a location I want to shoot at, a composition I like, anything like this that can provide me with enough of a framework to build up an idea over time.
Near the beginning of your photography journey you started a 52 weeks project (where you take a photo every week for a year). How would you say completing this project has affected the development of your photography?
I think it helped me learn how to plan out shoots better and to rely less on location and more on content. There isn’t anything wrong with working based off location and not really going into shooting with a clear idea already, I’ve just found that that’s not how I make my best images. The project offered me enough time to solidify an idea (or to try at least) and not get too frustrated at myself for not executing it the way I wanted to as well. I wanted to try a 365 but I found that I would hate too much of what I was posting to see the project as beneficial over time, although I’m sure if I had given it a shot it would have helped me in many ways. It also helped me find a more solid direction of what style of photos I want to create in the future instead of continuously trying out various styles (not that experimenting once in a while is a bad thing, I’m all for it if it feels right).
What’s on your gear list? (cameras, lenses, editing software)
I shoot with a 5D Mark II, a Sigma 50mm f/1.4, and a Canon 35mm f/2.0. For post work I use Adobe Photoshop CS5 exclusively. I used to shoot with a Canon rebel xti but finally upgraded to a full frame at the beginning of 2014.
How important is Photoshop/Post-Processing to your works? Would it be possible to see a before and after?
I usually shoot with post in mind, but also try to get as much as I can in camera. This means having to do some pretty weird (but fun) and sometime dangerous things once in a while, but I find it always looks better to get as much in camera and to do whatever needs to be done in photoshop later to bring the image together instead of being lazy and doing everything in post. I’m not that well versed in photoshop other than doing colour work and basic manipulations though, so maybe if I learned more of the program I could incorporate it more in my workflow.
What do you like to do in your free time when you’re not creating photography?
I’m an avid music fan and a hobbyist musician/songwriter/producer, and am trying to get more serious about it and release some projects in the next year, so music takes up a lot of my free time if I’m not seeing friends. I feel much more vulnerable/inexperienced with music compared to photography though, so it’s definitely harder for me to put out music than it is to put out new photographic work.
What is your favourite photo that you’ve ever taken? (why?)
Probably “Sigil” or “Kings Upon The Main”.
I really like “Sigil” since I see it as a shift in my work in a positive way where after creating that image, I wanted to create more images with similar visual impact or drama in it, and also I didn’t think the photo was going to work originally after shooting it, so it working out was a nice surprise. “Kings Upon The Main” was one of the first photos that I had planned out extensively and that actually worked out in the end, so similarly to “Sigil” I see it as a shift in my work where I realized I could plan out more elaborate images and make them work.
Within your work you partake in creating original and unique self-portraits. Tell us, why do you take self-portraits? Do you find it therapeutic?
I wouldn’t say I find it therapeutic really, but it’s nice being able to shoot an idea without having to direct someone and to have the ease of knowing I can do as many takes as I need to to get a good photo. It’s a good way to learn how to use your equipment and to experiment, or just to shoot whenever you want. I try to not use myself for photos most of the time, but sometimes I have to as I’m not comfortable asking people to do certain things for a photo (something dangerous or uncomfortable, etc). I don’t show my face in photos for the most part so you can’t really tell it’s me, either way. I don’t want my face associated with my work, I guess.
Can you tell us about your creative process. Do you usually sketch your ideas before shooting? (if so, can we see?)
90% of the time I doodle out very bad drawings for photo ideas I have that act as triggers for the ideas more than anything. From there, I spend some time figuring out the details of how to get the photo done (location, outfits, necessary props, time of day, models, etc). It’s nice being able to refer to a sketch before shooting to keep it in mind, but I’m always open for changing things while shooting if it’s more practical or necessary to complete the photo.
Here are some doodles with the image I created from them
Within your work do you utilize mostly natural light, artificial light, or both? (why)
I use available light, but am looking to purchase some strobes very soon to have more control with the lighting in my photos, and to become more versed in studio work and portraiture. I’d like to incorporate it in personal shoots but don’t see myself using it for anything other than mimicking daylight or to simply enhance the image if necessary, never to use it just for the sake of using it because I can.
A lot of your work focuses on surrealism. I was curious as to what your personal definition of surrealism is?
I wouldn’t say my work focuses on surrealism, I just like creating images that are visually compelling and often bizarre or dark and that often have certain meanings attached to them that I’ve come up with. I don’t know enough about the surrealist movement to really give a thorough definition of it (even a personal opinion). A lot of young photographers seem to use it as a buzzword for creating images that can’t really happen in real life, and even with my limited knowledge of the movement I’m fairly certain that that’s not what “true” surrealism is, or at least what it originally pertained to.
Tell us about the music that inspires you.
I listen to a lot of instrumental/ambient music while trying to come up with ideas or while editing photos, stuff like Helios, This Will Destroy You, Maybeshewill, Telefon Tel Aviv, I could go on. This kind of music is very mood driven so it helps me focus on visuals; music with vocals or lyrics tend to evoke more of a set story whereas instrumental music lets you do that in your mind for yourself.
How important is it to you personally, to express yourself through the means of photography?
I feel guilty if I don’t shoot for too long, or don’t put out work that I think is up to par with what I want it to be, so pretty important to the point where it affects my emotional or psychological state. It’s my biggest passion and I want to take it as far as I can, so I think it’s natural to feel guilty for not putting as much work into it as I can.
What do you hope to say to people with the work that you create?
I don’t know if I have one thing in particular that I want to say with my work, honestly. Meanings in my photos vary from photo to photo, so it’s hard to pin down an overarching message in my work. If there is something, I don’t think it’s conscious. Not everything has to have some deep meaning behind it, in my opinion. If I can get someone’s attention with just visuals, then I’ve technically done my job, but coming up with ideas for photos with actual concepts behind the visuals strengthens them as well. Too often I see photos where someone has clearly tried to add some deep meaning after the image has been made instead of just saying “this is an idea I had for a photo and thought it would look nice so I made it”; there’s nothing inherently wrong about not having meanings behind works, and I find it better to be honest than to try to make something up to make your work seem more profound.
Who are some of your favourite artists and/or photographers?
I’m a big fan of Nicholas Alan Cope and Dustin Edward Arnold’s collaborations, Esao Andrews, Laura Makabresku, Aron Wiesenfeld, Oleg Oprisco, Storm Thorgerson, and too many more to name. I look up to a lot of musicians/producers like Keith Kenniff as well, his work is incredible and he’s insanely talented.
What is your proudest moment as a photographer?
I don’t think a single thing in particular can be called my proudest moment, but knowing that there are people out there who like my work enough to purchase a print of mine is pretty damn humbling. It’s nice being recognized or getting features, but knowing that people want to have something I’ve created hanging in their home is pretty amazing.
What are you currently working on?
I have a series I really want to get finished before winter comes and another I want to finish during the winter, but both involve ideas that I still don’t know how to shoot and are generally way harder to shoot than most of my work. I have a lot of ideas for photos that I’ve had for a while that I want to get done as well while doing all this, and as mentioned before I want to get more serious with music and put out a project or two. I have a few ideas for short video clips as well that I want to shoot based off of ideas for photos; I think delving into video in general would be a great experiment, and I could also score the video with my own music so it could be a very fulfilling process in the end. I also want to look into doing small exhibitions in my city or gallery shows in general in the near future, that’s something I’m very interested in pursuing.
And finally, what is the best advice that you’ve ever received in regards to photography, art, or life?
I didn’t receive this advice from someone, but I found this quote online and it has become one of my favourites : “Suffer the pain of discipline, or suffer the pain of regret”. It’s kind of from a negative outlook (if you don’t shape up and do what you want you’ll regret it and be miserable), but the truth behind it outweighs that completely. I have so many things I want to work on and I think being reminded that you will regret not working harder on the things you love is good incentive to work harder.
Interviewed By: Angela Butler, thanks for reading!