Interview, Sean Mundy -
On The Journey of Expression
Sean, are you a free man?
I feel pretty free to do what I’d like to for the most part.
One can also deceive themselves into thinking they are acting out of freedom if the superficial conscience the society has programmed in man still keeps at play.
For sure, it all boils down to perception, really. There are many places in the world where people are convinced that they are the most free, but they are objectively less free than other places.
What was the reason which pushed you towards seeking a more direct contact with reality and not through a priest?
I could not justify my belief in God, and still wouldn’t be able to rationally justify the belief, so I don’t believe in a God, or higher power of any kind. In my opinion, answering some of the most difficult questions (why there is something instead of nothing, why we are here, questions of purpose etc) with a larger question (God/deities) isn’t a solid answer and has no real explanatory power when all you can point to provide information about these higher powers are ancient texts that can be subjectively used for nearly any position on any subject, and are in several cases written by anonymous sources. I can’t outright say that I, in fact, have more direct contact with reality than someone who is religious since I can’t prove either side of this argument, however, but I would definitely say that in my opinion, it is more likely that my view on this issue is more in line with reality.
Despite not being religious/a believer, I think spirituality or religion is still very interesting and a topic worth delving into, especially with visual arts. Idolatry in the Hollow series is more so about the underlying “groupthink” of religions (not something exclusive to religious ideologies, of course, to be fair) and the ceremonial aspect of their practices, but Elude is not really about anything religious, or it was not made with these intentions in mind at least.
So how did Elude come into existence?
Elude was the first image I shot in my Hollow series, and it laid the framing for how the rest of the series would be executed in terms of composition and perspective. I wanted to create a tense scene of someone running away from a group as if the person in front is fleeing from persecution or something along these lines. The use of a group and 1 sole figure/subject is something that continues throughout the rest of the series as well, and probes at ideas of individualism and collectivism, or the individual vs. the collective.
You have created widely using religious elements, is that your way of highlighting, and perhaps, making people more aware of their subtle imprisonments?
I’m not trying to make blanket statements about people of faith or any religion, in particular, I’m much more interested in the social phenomenon involved from beliefs in the supernatural, or the impact of this phenomenon on secular society, or society at large.
With that, where do you want to lead your viewer? How concerned about you with what the viewer feels looking at your photographs?
I’m more interested in where the viewer is subjectively led from looking at my images than looking to elicit a specific reaction out of a viewer.
What about your own subjectivity in these images?
The meanings or ideas I’m looking to express in my images are probed at differently depending on the image; some images will be more vague and present a scene without a specific idea or message that I’m looking to have an audience “get”, whereas others will be slightly more directed “commentary” on something, but at the same time will be open enough to interpretation to some degree (in my opinion at least), like in my image Oaths: it’s a hand over a black book that is smoking. Visually it’s suggestive of a few different things, and the title ties into the image as well, but I am not openly giving any “stance” on any particular thing. Also, I have no unifying message behind my work as a whole at the moment, I’m more interested in continuing to create scenes along the lines of what I’ve described here and in the past, and I think visually my images are cohesive enough and don’t necessarily need a singular overarching ideology or anything like this.
..and does your creative process start with that in mind? How does a piece of your come into existence?
It varies, but I would not say it starts with that at all, although it is definitely an aspect of it; being aware of how your work could be viewed is very important. My images/ideas are sometimes made over time from assembling various aspects of information that go into an image (perspective, composition, color palette, mood etc), eventually culminating into a final idea, and sometimes they come to me fully formed, but this is super rare. I pull from inspirations/external stimuli a lot as well; I’ve noticed that I often will look at an artwork and for a split second think the piece is something very different than what it actually is, and after looking more closely I’ll be disappointed that the piece isn’t what I originally thought it was, and then use what I thought was in the image as more inspiration for pieces as well. I’ve never purposely tried to practice this, but I think even from my few experiences where this has happened that it would be an interesting exercise to learn about the way you (as a viewer) process imagery as well and what biases/associations you may or may not be bringing along with you to the experience of looking at art.
You have said that you create from a “certain perspective”, would you feel that something would be greatly missed if you weren’t creating in the context you do?
I don’t know specifically what you’re referring to, although if I had to guess I’d have to say it’s more of a literal perspective in the sense that I often like to make images from a distance and from high above the scene, in somewhat of a 3rd person type of way. I like the way it distances the viewer from the subject(s) in the image and presents an almost omniscient kind of perspective, it feels very artificial and strange at times but I really like it. When I don’t use this kind of perspective I often just shoot at normal vantage points or very close to subjects, it really relies on the specific image each time, so it’s hard to say if something would inherently be missing if I didn’t.
What’s your relationship with the color black?
I used to shoot a lot with color, but lately, I use black a lot in my images (along with grays/neutral palettes in general) to create more neutral atmospheres that are “colder” in a sense than an atmosphere with life/color infused into it. A lot of my images are pretty bleak or broody, and having mostly grays and blacks elevates this subtly along with the actual physical elements in an image other than the colors, or rather lack of.
Your self-portraits, the way they are created - are you highlighting a certain chaos that you still find yourself in?
I might address certain topics or themes that I do think about fairly often in my free time in my work, but I do not use myself in the images to specifically highlight these ideas. I often don’t show faces in my images to avoid having them be the unintended focal point, but more so for the body to act as something for people to project the idea of personhood onto, like a blank slate of a person instead of an individual person. I also enjoy being directly involved in an image instead of only being behind the camera, so making self-portraits or at least using my body in an image instead of someone else’s is one way I do this.
You are also producing music by yourself, what kind of stories do you want to tell with your songs? What’s your process of producing a track?
I’ve been writing/playing music longer than taking photos/making visual art really, I always had music around me growing up (my parents are both musicians) so it kind of came naturally to me, but I’ve only really started taking it more seriously as of late. I’m still really new to writing vocal/lyrical parts (and singing them), I definitely struggle with this the most, but for the most part, I typically project thoughts of mine or thoughts of a character/another person that I’ll write from the perspective of as lyric ideas. I’m a very doubtful person and self-conscious about a lot of things so instead of trying to write in a very artificial/fake way about things I don’t experience or understand, I often use my own experiences or thoughts. Each track comes about in different ways really, it depends on what best suits the track. Sometimes I’ll have a beat sequenced that I will write chords over, and then add instrument melodies and vocal melodies, then sometimes I start with a vocal idea and build around that; it depends on what strikes first and what sticks as a solid foundation worth writing additional material around.
Lastly, what would you suggest to an inspiring artist?
If someone is just starting out in any art practice, I’d recommend taking it seriously if it’s something you’re passionate about. I’d also suggest trying to create as consistently as possible; doing your best to be consistent is the best way to make new work and the more new work you make the odds of you making something better increase quite a bit.
Interview with Sean Mundy