Sean Mundy at Galerie Youn | Q&A
Montreal native Sean Mundy plays on themes of isolation and identity in his photography. Often surreal yet minimalistic, Mundy’s scrupulous work is digitally manipulated and carefully crafted to showcase moments of collective structure versus individual separation, using the human form to represent conflict aligned with alienation.
Mundy’s work is displayed in Montreal at Galerie Youn, where his thought-provoking imagery parallels isolation within collective groups, as seen in his photographs titled “Elude,” “Moths,” and “Untitled (Gather).” His work will also be showcased at the Photo L.A. art fair on behalf of Galerie Youn. Mundy touches on how the symbolism behind his work exhibits the cumulative disconnect that people face due to technology, mental illness, and difference in social and religious constructs.
Did living in Montreal affect the way you make music?
I don't think that is has directly affected the way that I make music, but it has definitely shaped and grown my love for music. There is such a huge amount of music coming out of here with incredibly talented artists in every possible genre trying to break out, so it's very inspiring. While Montreal might not have the international appeal of a city like Toronto (especially right now with the influence of artists like Drake and The Weeknd) there's no denying that Montreal has a huge appeal all the same as far as music goes.
What inspires your themes of alienation, isolation and idolatry?
These kinds of themes have always been interesting prompts for me to work off of, there was never really a conscious decision or intentional effort to create work that probes at these themes or darker imagery in general, I've always been naturally drawn to them. Horror novels (especially Stephen King), horror/psychological thrillers, and darker video games were always my favourite type of media growing up. The styling and worlds built in these mediums were always more interesting and dealt with more interesting subject matter than worlds on the other end of the spectrum for me. These topics, in particular alienation and isolation, also interest me greatly today in our modern context as we are more connected than ever, yet find increasingly high rates of anxiety and depression throughout the western world; there is a disconnect between our humanity and our technology worth investigating. Exploring the intersect of religion/the effects of religion as an ideological structure inside of secular democracies interests me greatly as well coming from a very religious Roman catholic background (that being said, I am an atheist), and creating works that are inspired by this intersect coupled with those other themes is something I will most likely continue to do for a while, as probing at them instead of simply making beautiful images with a camera is a much more interesting and rewarding endeavour in my opinion.
What interested you in creating your own brand of surrealism. Your picture are distinct in that they portray the human figure in extremes, in the heat and cold, did your environment reflect anything you put into your subject matter?
Even when I wasn't creating work in this style, I've always had an interest in symbolic/conceptual imagery that does more than just present beautiful images at face value, so I try my best to make similar work in this area today. I aim to probe at ideas/general concepts in my images as opposed to creating specific narratives, using human figures as placeholders/to serve whatever is being probed at in the work, it's never about the specific individuals in the images (which is why I will often obfuscate their identities, hide faces, dress them all the same etc.). My more recent use of cement and concrete as backgrounds is definitely inspired by my surroundings/growing up in a city, and I think it creates an interesting contrast between the figures/elements in the images as well. I used to always shoot in forests but today find myself constantly drawn towards the cold neutral lifelessness of concrete and cement. Learning very basic techniques at the beginning of my journey with photography like layer masks and compositing really opened up the door to the endless possibilities outside of what would normally be possible with a camera as well, and taking these techniques to interesting lengths to probe at concepts through symbolic and conceptual imagery became a natural progression for me in the end. Many of my favourite artists like Storm Thorgerson created surreal/bizarre images and have been incredibly inspiring to me throughout my time creating images, and seeing the divide between my work and the work of those artists I find myself inspired by is reassuring as I feel I continue to develop my own style further and further as time goes on.
What is your work ethic like nowadays? Are you a compulsive creator?
I'm always in the process of working on something, but lately I've been giving myself more slack in terms of pressure and needing to have x amount of hours finished of work a day and such, since it usually just feeds into my anxiety and doesn't actually result in finishing works at a faster rate or feeling better throughout the process. That being said, I definitely would say I have a compulsion towards creating, I feel stagnant very fast if I don't have a photo planned to shoot, a photo I'm in the midst of editing, or a track that I'm writing/arranging/producing. I go through periods where photography interests me less than music or vice versa, but there is always some form of expression or medium that I have in the back of my mind that I am thinking of or am working on in one way or another.
Did you always have a passion for photography or were there other artistic avenues you took that ultimately lead you to become a photographer?
I've always had a passion for visual arts in general (was drawing and painting somewhat from a young age), but music was actually my first love before photography. My parents are both musicians and often had friends who were in bands with them over at our place so I grew up with a huge musical influence constantly surrounding me which definitely fed into my love of the arts in general. It's only recently that I'm taking music more seriously with my MOADS project (releasing a self-produced, mixed and mastered track every month), the goal is to eventually have my music be on the same level as my photography and to have both feed off of each other, eventually making video works that I would score myself would be a natural progression from this as well. Photography was simply the best medium for me to create work in when I was just starting out with it roughly 9 years ago, and being able to have one foot in the "real" world (using real world locations and subject matter) and another foot in my created more surreal/bizarre one was a big contributing factor as to why I decided to continue going further with photography instead of other visual mediums.
What are you trying to evoke with images of uniformity? How do you approach photography.
I approach photography in the most general sense as image creation; a camera is just a tool to create images, and my work is not medium specific; if I couldn't take photos I would probably just draw or paint similar subject matter/scenes. Sometimes I try to create the perfect moment in time where I can capture a moment in a single frame that is the closest rendition to a pre-conceived idea that I have, and other times it means collecting images as materials to later composite together in photoshop, depending on the idea. I'm not married to either approach exclusively, I am always open to one or the other, it depends on which approach better suits the image at hand that I am trying to create. For the uniformity in my images, a lot of this stems from my desire to enact full control over something in my life and most likely stems from anxiety as well, and often plays into the specific topics I engage with in my images.
Does an image come fully together during conceptual phases or in editing?
For the most part, through editing unless if the image is something that I've captured in a single frame, and even then there's always something that can be done in post/the editing phase to bring out even more from the image. Usually the only way to truly know if the image I'm creating is fully "successful" or done is after spending some time with it in the post processing / editing phase. It can definitely be frustrating to spend hours and hours working on a piece to be finished with it and not feel that it has met its full potential, but that is just the nature of working in this medium, similar to how a painter will spend hours on a piece to still potentially not love the final product. I'm at least able to work non-destructively and able to re-use parts of the piece in another piece, which is a huge benefit to working in a digital medium over a traditionally physical/tangible one
Mundy’s solo show will be on display at Photo L.A. from Jan. 31 to February 3rd, 2019 in Santa Monica.