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Photographs by Monica Carvalho Blur the Lines of Perception
Monica Carvalho is a 26-year-old photographer who is living her dreams through her creative works. Born in the French part of Switzerland to Portuguese parents, Monica’s love for art has always been a part of her innermost being. She is currently based in Berlin where she lives with her longtime boyfriend whom she met whilst studying and living in the UK.
Carvalho, is as interesting as her creative images; she speaks four languages and holds two degrees. Her photomontages are evidence of a brilliant and uniquely minded individual, who derives immense pleasure in creating her photographic artwork. There is so much that could be said about her works, however, it is her creative process used in producing her incredibly diverse and mind boggling images that intrigues us all. MINUS37 had the privilege of delving into this gifted photographer’s past, present and future when we recently interviewed her.
Tell us a little bit about your life. Was photography always present?
I grew up in Lausanne, Switzerland. My passion for photography and the arts in general goes a long way back. Since the moment I did my first drawing I knew I wanted to become an artist. I always loved expressing myself through drawings and paintings, and attended various extra-curricular art workshops as a kid. I first came across photography by seeing my parents photograph us and our family trips. I thought it was fascinating that an object can capture moments like that, just with one click. It was like magic to me! I asked my parents to offer me disposable cameras to take on our travels so I could record them too. I loved creating photo albums after the trip.
I discovered digital photography later, in my teens. I received my current DSLR when I was 18. This is around the time when I started experimenting with photomanipulation, with Google’s free software Picasa. I loved superimposing photos, adding filters, cutting parts of images. It was like giving a second life to my ordinary travel & everyday photos. Soon enough, I realised I wanted to challenge the common perception of digital photographs. I wanted to inspire people by combining photos to create an entire new photo, a new reality. I called these compositions ‘photomontages’ or ‘photo manipulations’.
My photo manipulation skills evolved considerably the day a friend of mine introduced me to Adobe Photoshop. The least I could say is that it was a game changer: thousands of photo-editing possibilities and ideas opened for my creative, starving mind. I’ve been self-teaching Photoshop since then, and I learn new tricks everyday!
What is your artistic background, when and how did you start?
After college, I applied for an art school in London, but was rejected. I took it very personally, I felt like they were saying that I was not good enough to be an artist. This left me with a bitter feeling towards art institutions. Then I thought, what can an artist do if not go to an art school? Well, they study history of art and become teachers of course… So I left my hometown to study in the UK (a Bachelor in History of Art at Leeds University, then a Masters in Design for Communication at Westminster University in London). During those years, I juggled between dissertations and photoshop. I actually really enjoyed both my degrees, and even though I didn’t go to art school I still managed to develop myself as an artist. I realised that you don’t need to go to art school to become an artist. When you’re meant to be, you’re meant to be. It’s simply the only way that makes me happy, that makes me myself. History of art and communication design were tools to complement my career as an artist.
I realised that you don’t need to go to art school to become an artist. When you’re meant to be, you’re meant to be.
Around 2015, after getting positive feedback from family and friends, I realised that making photomontages could become more than just a hobby. I created an Instagram profile in 2016, started selling products online and exhibited my photomontages for the first time in London.
After living in the UK for four years, I moved to Berlin at the end of 2016 with my boyfriend, who I’ve been together for 6 years now (we met in Leeds) and who’s been the biggest supporter of my art – he appears in a lot of my photomontages haha. We wanted to start a new life in this German city, where the rent is cheap, the startup scene vibrant and the art exciting. Berlin is just awesome for anything art-related. I’ve been given many exhibitions opportunities, which I am extremely grateful for. I’ve also met a lot of other artists and have evolved greatly in my artistic style.
How did you end up with the style you currently work in?
“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” This quote by Edgar Degas has been the guideline for my artistic practice since my obsession for optical illusions and surrealism started ten year ago. As far as I can remember, I’ve always been in awe for dreams and magic tricks. The imaginary world is infinite, full of potential!
I initially drew inspiration from surreal painters (Magritte, Dali) and photographers (Chema Madoz, Man Ray). The artistic practice of these early inspirations was crucial for the concepts I use in my work today. These artists made me think differently, made me question the aim of art and the world we live in. More contemporary influences include the surreal collages of Eugenia Loli, the provocative digital manipulations of Johnny Smith, and the combo photos of Stephen Mcmennamy. Literature-wise, I am fascinated with Boris Vian’s surreal book Froth on the Daydream, and Stephen LaBerge’s Lucid Dreaming.
How do you usually work? Can you explain the process?
My USP is that I use photos taken by myself only. For example, some of my work combines photos from my travels with photos of my body parts (or of friends). This makes my art 100% unique. I never use stock images. That’s my everyday challenge!
Noticing resemblances – colour, shape, texture – between my photos is the first step towards creating a new photomontage. Once I get an idea, I check my portfolio of images on my laptop. I have thousands of photos taken during travels, of landscapes and friends and family etc. I’m not sure how my mind gets this ‘illuminations’, but basically something ‘clicks’ in my brain when it notices similarities between two incongruous photos. I usually combine two photos together, but don’t always have both photos already in my collection of images. For example, when I came up with the idea for my artwork ‘Intimasea’, I already had the photo of the beach in the Bahamas taken in 2007, but didn’t have a photo of a stomach. So I took a photo of my belly and transferred it to my laptop to start putting both photos together. I chose Adobe Photoshop as the canvas where I would express myself artistically, because of the endless photo-editing possibilities it offers.
My ’Bodyscapes’ illustrate my fascination for the connection between the human body and natural elements. I perceive the human body itself as a landscape. Lips are but delicate hills, tongues are winding paths, eyelashes are forests, hair is lots of tiny waves of an ocean, hands are soft and warm like sand…
What do you hope your work achieves or invokes?
For me, art is what inspires and tells something about the world we live in. Art gives me a voice in this world. It provides the medium with which I want to express myself, how I want to be heard and transmit my ideas.
Art gives me a voice in this world.
I create these photomontages to illustrate the endless possibilities of the imaginary. I enjoy giving birth to new worlds. The worlds of my dreams.
Using body parts in my work also makes you question about the function of that body part. I hope you will see the beauty of something often taken for granted. The human body is absolutely amazing. Before creating these photomontages, I never really gave much thoughts to my eyebrows, or freckles, or belly button…
How do you feel about being a young photographer in a modern society?
It’s tough! There is so much competition everywhere. Competition to exhibit or be featured in print magazines, competition with who is going to come up with a brand-new concept… But it’s also so exciting! Social media is essential nowadays for businesses and marketing. Thanks to it, I discovered many amazing artists and can share new concepts and inspire millions of people on a daily basis.
My art is digital, so I am very lucky to be living at a time where digital technology and social media are booming. For instance, Instagram has been an awesome platform to share my art and get exposure. Without it, I would certainly not have been able to collaborate with brands and do commission work. However, the fact that so many artists present their work digitally means that there is a considerable proliferation of images on the internet, which itself has raised difficult issues regarding copyright. I personally refuse to put watermarks on my artworks because it looks so ugly and pretentious. I know this has a huge downside: some malevolent people steal my images or don’t give proper credit when reposting them. But I want to believe that the more I get popular, the more people will identify my work to my name and the more I will be respected (I hope!!!). I think I have yet to find the right balance…
Being an artist is hard sometimes, because it is not always considered a ‘real’ job. My parents initially tried to make me change my mind about pursuing art studies. Their argument was that 1. I would not make enough money and 2. art would not develop me intellectually. But that was the point of view of my parents because according to my dad (by the way, he changed his mind since and fully supports me :D), in order to be happy you needed to work your ass off in an office 7am-7pm, and “life is hard Monica, you can’t always do what you want”, “You’ll understand when you’re older”, etc. Those were my dad’s own fears. I’ve never felt the need to be rich, I just want to have enough money to travel sometimes, have a warm home and food. I don’t want a car or a huge house or lots of clothes or whatever.
Furthermore, I love being an artist because it means working for me. I am my own boss and I work from the comfort of my home. I’ve worked in offices, for other people, and I hated it every time. I felt stripped of my creativity and self. The proof that I am so much happier as an artist is that, when I left my last office job (social media marketer for a startup in Berlin), I went from 15k to 50k followers in less than 6 months, got the blue tick verification on Instagram, exhibited seven times, got invited as a speaker in a conference and worked with brands like Samsung. These amazing opportunities would never have occurred if most of my time was being dedicated to work for a company. People appreciate my art and it makes me so happy. I am happier than I ever was. This is how I am going to express myself in this world. My photomontages are my weapons of creativity, my assets.
My photomontages are my weapons of creativity, my assets.
There is this brilliant TED talk by Hadi Eldebek called “Why Must Artists Be Poor?”. Starting from the perspective that art creates meaning in life and brings people together, Hadi promotes a society “where artists are more valued and have more cultural and financial support so they can focus on creating arts instead of being forced to drive Ubers or take corporate jobs they’d rather not have.” Indeed, only 10% of art school graduates end up full-time artists. The other 90% need a side job to pay the bills. Art contributes so much to the economy, and yet so little is invested in artists. This is what needs to be changed!