Interview #73: Monica Uszerowicz
CUS: How did you get into photography?
Monica Uszerowicz: I got into photography because my father is, as well, and I wanted to take photos too. As a kid, I used a poor-quality digital camera to snap images of nature scenes, hoping I’d capture spectral traces of ghosts or fairies. My dad later gave me a Pentax K1000 and I started to take photos of my friends and my life, rather obsessively.
CUS: Did you study, or are you studying, photography? If not, how did you learn?
MU: I never studied photography in school. I learned primarily through trial and error, through my father, through books, and through pouring over the work of my friends and their friends.
CUS: Tell us a little about where you live. How does your city/country/location have an affect on your photography?
MU: Miami, Florida, is nicknamed the Magic City, and I think it’s so appropriate. The combination of the lawlessness, constant heat, consistently blossoming flora, and the fact that the whole place is sinking lends a quality to the city that is fragile but also vulgar. It feels very much like a myth or a dark fairy tale. The light, colors, and my friends—who are all incredibly creative—affect my photography and my whole life in ways I can’t fully explain.
CUS: Tell us about your photographic process.
MU: My process is either very simple (I’ll see something striking or appealing, and snap a photo) or a little less simple: I’ll have an idea or an image in mind and then see how I can go about setting it up or capturing it. Sometimes I’ll wait for it to appear.
CUS: What did you have for breakfast this morning?
MU: A smoothie with blueberries, strawberries, banana, vanilla almond milk, honey, and cinnamon.
CUS: Who are the individuals in your photographs?
MU: My friends, my family, my loves, strangers.
CUS: What makes a good image?
MU: The perception of what makes a good image can vary moment to moment, setting to setting. Sometimes it has to feel strong. Other times it just has to look cool.
CUS: Where do you draw inspiration from?
MU: I draw inspiration from the people around me and the way they make me feel.
CUS: Tell us about the locations in your photographs.
MU: I keep a camera in my purse, so my photographs are usually like bullet points on a map of where I’ve been—it’s a nice way of creating a commonality between the places I go.
CUS: What can you tell us about your project "A Study on Dreaming in Miami"?
MU: This project has been happening for a while and I’m unsure of where it’ll go. It’s an unofficial—or pretend—case study on dreams. I’ve been asking Miami-based friends to tell me about reoccurring or noteworthy dreams and recording their responses, sometimes looking for overlapping themes but mostly just listening.
I feel that Florida, and Miami especially, functions as a barometer for the rest of the country—climate change, issues surrounding immigration, and an overall corrupt senselessness that the rest of the country jokes about. But these topics matter, even for the other 49 states. I see Miami as the unconscious of the U.S.A.: all the nightmares and nastiness they’d rather push aside, and all the inexplicable beauty and fantasy, too. Water is a great symbol for the unconscious, and Miami is sinking. It’s a city of dreams in a very literal way, so I wanted to topically examine this. Also, it’s a bit selfish: I feel sentimental when people share their dreams. There are so many common threads between the sleeping minds of the people I’ve spoken to, and it’s somehow comforting to me.
CUS: Do you believe that with the rise of digital photography the phrase “everyone can be a photographer” is true? What are your thoughts on digital vs. film photography; photography and the Internet? (For example, mass amounts of images being uploaded every day via sites such as Flickr, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram…) How do you differentiate “art” photography and “non-art” photography?
MU: I don’t think about this too much. The Internet has made all kinds of art much more pervasive and this isn’t necessarily a problem; it’s certainly made it easier for me to share things with friends. “Art photography” and “non-art photography” are inherently differentiated based on the photographer’s intent. If the inundation of technology is a necessary evil, I think people should take it into their own hands and enjoy it as best they can. As for digital versus film photography, I’m very unfamiliar with digital cameras but this mostly has to do with my comfort zone. I am just used to film and like the process better.
CUS: Do you think that the Internet (as opposed to a gallery or any other art institution) is a legitimate place to showcase photographic work or do photographs have to be seen in “the flesh” to be fully appreciated and experienced?
MU: I don’t know if the Internet is here to stay, because perhaps one day something apocalyptic will occur and we will have to rebuild. But of course it is a legitimate place to showcase work. I know that there is a binary—showcasing work on the Internet showcase versus showcasing it in real life—but I don’t think about it that much. In general, seeing any type of work “in the flesh” is more holistic and a little more enriching than seeing it online, and that might always be true. That said, I think viewing photographic work on the Internet creates a kind of experience that can be really inspiring, while seeing it in person is another experience altogether, one that might digest more slowly. Both ways of displaying work are valuable. Think of video art: what if you were to see it on a TV screen versus your computer screen? Each platform can translate the feel of the work.
CUS: What are your plans for the spring?
MU: There are a lot of books I’m stoked to read. I was out of town for part of last month and it’ll be nice to stay put and read. I am also selling a chapbook of writing and images, Nostalgia, and a collaborative photo zine I did with Dana Lauren Goldstein, Hey Mickey, at the Miami Zine Fair at the end of the month. I have a solo show at Maggie Knox Gallery, a new space here in Miami, on May 2, about which I’m both nervous and so pleased. I’m excited to feel the weather transition from mostly-hot to very-hot. Mango season is nearly here.
CUS: Your favorite photographer?
MU: I have always loved the photographs and poetry of Gordon Parks. Whispers of Intimate Things is such a special book. As far as contemporary photographers, Lukasz Wierzbowski’s work is fascinating.
CUS: If you could collaborate with anyone who would it be?
MU: Lindley Warren, who was kind enough to include me in her project, The Ones We Love. Aside from being an incredible curator, she’s a wonderful photographer.
CUS: Your dream equipment?
MU: A Contax 645 and all the Kodak Portra I could dream of.
CUS: Your dream location to shoot?
MU: My dream locations to shoot are my dream locations to travel: Iceland, Fiji, Senegal, Mali, southern India. But I am pretty happy right here.
CUS: What is the biggest challenge you face with your work?
MU: Self-doubt. The cost of buying and processing film is also difficult.
CUS: What was the last thing you dreamt about?
MU: I was in a museum of ancient Central and South American art, but really it was just someone’s house. Very sinister music was playing. The artifacts were displayed in two rooms and the third room was a bedroom with neon TV light. My friend and I went into the lobby and found a miniature hot-air balloon—this one had lots of balloons and a basket a child could fit into. She insisted I take a ride in it, but I didn’t want to get into trouble with museum security. We let the red and yellow balloons float to the ceiling.
CUS: What are some of your favorite books and films?
MU: Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino, A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin, The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges, The Doctor Stories by William Carlos Williams, and A Haunted House and Other Short Stories by Virginia Woolf are some of my favorite books. Some of my favorite films are Black Orpheus, The Shining, Style Wars, La Strada, Spirited Away, and Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors.
CUS: If you could photograph any person (past or present) who would you choose and why?
MU: All of my grandparents, especially my Grandpa Sol. I didn’t get to know him very well, and I didn’t photograph the rest of them nearly enough.
CUS: What advice would you give to your fellow photographers?
MU: Even if you are not shooting at the moment, and whether you do it for business or for fun, take a moment, sometimes, to pretend you’re looking at the world through your lens, just to remind yourself that it’s really precious. Or don’t—it’s good to not think about it all the time.
CUS: Our last interviewee, Jonathan Cherry, asks: What does the view out of your nearest window look like right now?
MU: The apartments and houses are very still, quiet, and dimly lit. The palm trees are glowing from the streetlights and dancing with a breeze that comes in every so often. There are a few Oreo-colored stray cats.
CUS: Last but not least, what would you like to ask the next interviewee?
MU: What were you doing before you answered these questions, and what will you do next?