At Home in the World – Carlos Monforte


~ My studio is the World ~

Meeting Spanish photographer Carlos Monforte makes one wonder what genre of photography he does. The writer spent a couple of months following him around, of course providing services as photographer’s assistant sometimes waking up in the wee hours of the morning to capture sunrises in various Singapore locations, sometimes sunset moments in a public housing carpark with light painting photography from moving vehicles.

After logging in countless car miles, drinking home brewed black coffee out of tumblers and wading through cold sea waters to help setup tripod (think Little Beach, Singapore at 5am), got a sneak peak into this travelling photographer’s inside world.

Is photography a lonely journey ?

Photography is a lonely journey in a sense that I studied photography on my own, I prepare my own photos and I always try to remain behind the camera, sometimes I participate in the shot when we do light painting photography. That is when I need people. Photography is also not easy work, as I always think on how to complement the amazing sunsets with unbelievable extra lights creating different effects, and to do that I cannot accomplish it on my own. Many times I can go take a picture by myself. I used to travel a lot, but to create the effect that I wanted is difficult when working alone.

I did not have any formal training as a photographer. I invested many, many hours searching Internet, reading books, watching videos on how to develop certain works in photography and styling photography. I can say I have good friends who helped me from the beginning on this photography journey, on how to work on different projects or adapt in different situations.

Can you describe how you approach bringing the elements to life, and how do you know when a picture is finished?

Many times I have the image in my mind, even before I shoot it. I spent hours thinking about the image. There is always inputs in our minds asking us to do different things. Many of my works are influenced by whatever my eyes see. So I can say the image is already created in my mind, or imagined inside my head. Sometimes it is difficult to explain what is inside my head. I can be at the same spot with other photographers and they can take their own shots from their own angle. Then after I work on the photo, it takes many hours to work on the computer, every corner, or a little centimeter on the photo to look the way I wanted it to look.

I like photography in many different ways, like portrait photography, I like faces that already say something on its own. I like the idea the face has the covering of a story. Of course I like a photo of a beautiful girl, but a person of a certain age can show whether he is living a happy life, not necessary a hard life, with a significant smile or a significant expression telling you how he is. That is what I like about a face and that’s when I know it is ready.

I love Wildlife photography but it is not an easy job, real wildlife is the most difficult to catch. In Borneo where I used to bring tourists to visit from Europe, you can only shoot an Orang Utan no more than 80metres away or on a height of 30meteres otherwise if you get any closer, it will run away. I can also get a closer shot in animal rehabilitation centers but nothing beats shooting wildlife in their own natural habitat.

Landscapes photography evolves from Nightscapes to Cityscapes. I love to be in the same spot for one or two weeks just to take the shot. And add story to it, such as drama in the clouds instead of a shot just showing a place. I am a travel photographer with my own work, I try to find new point of view, or tell a different story, instead of taking the same picture from the same spot just like other photographers before me when they were on the same location.

I remembered in Kyrgyztan’s Pashtun mountains at 3,700meters on a mountain pass with cold winds blowing and a temperature of minus 12 degrees in Winter and I asked the driver to keep driving for 2 hours up and down the mountains just to create lights on the road while I shot panoramic views of the mountains with dramatic car lights effect. I enjoyed that and the camera worked fantastically even in such extreme weather conditions.

During this time where travel is restricted it gives me more time to work in Singapore to work more with lights. So for the last 2 years I am trying to create in local and regular places which really has it own beauty with sunset and also trying to add some extra lights, sometime with a torchlights, or with car lights, or with different light accessories, to add extra meaning to the picture. This is not to make it beautiful, but to make it my photo. Many people can go to the same corner to take a photo, it may be a sunset or sunrise but the way I create my pictures, it will be my work. Very rarely I work on only 1 shot. Shots with Lightning strikes can be made up of 2,3 or 5 shots together. When I shoot landscape photography I start at 4pm in the afternoon to 10pm at night with 700 to 1,000 shots which at the end I work all them together and edit in a way that you can see in a cityscape how the sunset starts and the city night lights reflected on the buildings.

I have a special skill in finding places that I want to take pictures. I had often been ask ‘What do you see in this place, or what are you going to shoot?’ But after they see the finished picture, then they come to realize the result of getting up in the early hours of the morning and making car journey to get there.

Which genre of the photography do you see yourself?

I don’t confine myself to any particular genre of photography as I do varied subjects from wildlife to landscapes or cityscapes because I can be shooting at a particular place but if an interesting person walk past, I can change lenses to change my subject. I have the spirit to go into any type of photography and not just stick to just one style.

Who influences your artistic expression?

Wim Wenders is a German filmmaker, playwright, author, and photographer. He is a major figure in New German Cinema. His films were notable for their lush visual imagery which explains why my shots are often dramatic!

Sebastaio Salgado is a Brazilian photojournalist who works on long term self-assigned projects. His works on social documentary photography of workers in less developed countries are depicted in black and white images. I like to shoot in black and white, it is not simply press a button and remove the colors, it is working with all the lights again.

Another influence is from the last scene of Blade Runner 1984 movie where actor Rutger Hauer’s character lamented that after he is gone, all that amazing things he sees with his own eyes will be gone too and no one has access to his images. I want to leave something, I want to leave images with what I see with my eyes, not what my expensive camera sees, but how I see it. I don’t do a single shots, I don’t believe in capturing one single snap of a moment, because in my world there are many snaps.

Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?

I need my PC. I need it for editing. There are some who see raw photography as the original. For me raw photography is a picture taken by a camera designed by a German or Japanese company or any other country brand.  But when you edit the photo, that is when you make it yours. I spent many hours editing single photo. If I don’t edit the photo, that is not my picture. Some may say that it is not real photography because it is manipulated, well, that is not wrong. I want to work with these real information captured by my camera and re-create my view.

And of course, I can’t work without a camera.

What qualities do you look for in people you work with, or other artists?

Enthusiasm. I love enthusiasm. You can fake it for a minute but you can’t fake it for this work.

I do work with other photographers but I don’t influence them. We exchange ideas and I respect their artistic expression through their works.

What do you think of Social media as an online community?

I try to be more creative person than to be a follower to go to the same places and take the same shots, instead I find my own places to take my own pictures. It is not because I want to be a trend setter but I like to do my own thing. It is ok if they connect with me and they go to the place that I shot previously but I try not to follow others but Singapore being such a small place it is not easy to take a picture that did not exist on social media before. And if I look for places that I really like, even if someone had been there before me, I’ll shoot it with my own point of view and elements as I have no interest in copying a picture.  

The greatest compliment I get on social media is when I am compared with some respected photographers. I do not have complete knowledge of all the photographers because I really didn’t start out as a photographer and it is always great to have such comparison. I try to make a difference as it is very hard from the start. Many times I overdo it, I always tell myself I need a learning time, and I am still on a learning curve. My shots for the past 3 to 4 years are similar but it took time to learn, to reach this point and see how to edit the pictures, to learn how to use the tools in the way I like. I do not use pre-settings as I always create my own settings. When I first started out I use similar settings for light and shadow, I do not have presets for sunset, moonrise or cityscapes. I create my own presets every time and follow the same edition within the shot. In the past I used to fill in a lot of handwritten notebooks with my own numbers, and I still have those notebooks. But of course now I find automatic ways digitally to record them but it is still reserved for the 1 shot that I am working on instead of saving the settings for other shots. I get social media comments from the online community that they like the pinks and purples in the sky, this is because I mix the sunrise to dusk shots and this dramatic sky colors is not due to the presets.

Personally I do not compare myself with anyone. I just want to do my own expression of photography. You can see Picasso or Salvador Dali with their own unique artistic expression, creating their own different worlds. That is what I want to create – my own version of Singapore scenes be it Otters, or futuristic skies, it is my own version. I reached a point that I really didn’t care about how many social media likes I have, critics’ opinions or number of followers. There will be some who does not understand my work and others who like my photos enough to purchase prints from me. Honestly I am doing photography that I am proud of it, and not for anyone else. Even if my works is criticized, I am still proud that my work is seen in another way, and it is ok as it is a different understanding. For example I take landscape shots over 5 to 6 hours and many things can happen within that time frame. So it can be difficult to imagine Sun and Moon, Rainbow and Lightning with the sunset, Light and Dark clouds, buildings illuminated by the changing skylights, but it is there, instead of Photoshop into the shots.

During this time of Pandemic and restricted travel, did Social media extended your reach?

Social media helps, recently I sold a photo within hours after I posted it on my social media page. The buyers contacted me from the US and transferred via PayPal on the same day I posted my work. Social media is the way today to be out in the world, aside from working with art galleries and photo agencies.

What’s next after country borders re-open?

I will travel as far as I can reach with no limits and no regrets. If I can do 1,000km or 10,000km, I will do it.

There is no country that you cannot find any location to shoot, the same goes for there is no person whom you cannot find any angle to shoot. You can find beauty anywhere.

During this Pandemic period, this is the first time that I had not travelled in more than 12 years spent in Singapore. My wife tells me she sees me more in 1 year than the last 3 years combined.

I would love to go to Iceland but I am afraid it may end up like Marina Bay Sands as everyone shoots Marina Bay Sands but that does not stop me. I will find my own way to shoot the waterfalls and the Northern lights.

There you have it, a photographer on his own terms and suitably at home in the world.


About Author

Comments are closed.