Benjamin Antony Monn
Space, Sharpness and Symmetry
Space, Sharpness and Symmetry
Award-winning photographer, Benjamin Antony Monn was born in Munich, Germany in 1978. After undertaking a formal photographic apprenticeship in Munich’s Art in Action Studio until 2003, Monn began shooting professionally focusing on architecture, interiors, reportage and portraits. He has since provided a fascinating window into the futuristic forms in contemporary architecture, shaking our collective visual sense and providing a fresh perspective on today’s zeitgeist. One of Monn’s present projects is Endor, a visual document of 20th century observatories and power plants and their surrounding environments.
My inspiration for architectural photography comes mostly from some very famous architects. It started when I was 22 years old and visited Pinakothek der Moderne, a modern art museum designed by Mr. Stephan Braunfels in my hometown of Munich. I was interested in taking pictures of forms that these architects used in their buildings, and that was the beginning of my research of architecture and architects around the planet. I kept looking for the buildings these architects had designed and tried to create a series of images from them.
My personal projects are now leaning more towards environmental ideas, but whenever I work, I approach my theme by looking and searching for new kinds of images, new subjects and a new kind of interpretation of architectural photography. I think we have to start anew. I am mostly interested in modern architecture, using primary, abstract forms and new types of materials, as well.
During the last ten years, I have been predominantly working with modern and contemporary architecture. I've become very interested in abstract forms and abstract industrial architecture — the kind that most people don't really know about or even recognize around them: things like observatories and solar power plants built in or near forests and fields. This led me to a series that I call the Endor project, which is about the technical development of architecture over the past 200 years or so.
What interests me most about this project is the form and function that industrial architecture has. Most of the buildings that I'm shooting for this project relate to our energy supply, as water, wind, sun and other forms of renewable energy are the topics that interest me.
I envision this project like a documentary, so I will be trying to capture these images over the course of the next 20 to 30 years. The end result, I hope, will be considered a serious historical document.
I always try to think about the most interesting part of a building: what was the architect thinking as he created this? For example, how did he see the lighting? I then try to interpret the building with my photography so that it complements the building and makes it more interesting when those who have seen my photographic interpretation visit the real thing.
For my type of work, resolution is very important. For example, the prints for my exhibitions are large: up to 2 meters across. Therefore, the better the resolution of the camera, the more you can see sharper detail, finer tonal scale and better color in the final image. With high resolution, the end experience is much richer when you see the large, final prints.
The images made with the Nikon D800 are extremely sharp. I've never seen images that sharp come from a small 35mm camera, so I was pretty surprised when I first saw the images. The camera was also really easy to work with, handle and carry because it's not so heavy. I usually work with medium-format cameras, which are big and not so convenient to carry around. The Nikon D800 makes my life as a photographer easier. It's more compact than medium format, so it's more comfortable to work with and you don't have such large equipment to deal with when on location. This is especially important when you have to carry everything around with you the entire day, and this is quite common as an architectural photographer. The D800 offers the architecture photographer some relief.
The reason I am thinking about changing my equipment from medium format to the Nikon D800 is because you have greater flexibility. The razor-sharp NIKKOR lenses perfectly match with the 36-megapixel chip inside. And if you compare the quality of images you get with the medium-format camera's heavier body and heavier lenses, there is no difference, in my opinion. I would say that the Nikon D800 is a better match when it comes to lenses: you can also use tilt-shift lenses just like with the medium-format camera, which is important for architecture work. The most important factors for me are always the power of the images, the quality of the lenses and the amount of weight that I have to carry around the whole day with my tripod.
You could say that architectural photography is like gigantic still-life photography, as you must be very precise with the settings and compositions you choose. You also have to look at every little detail in the images, because they can affect the entire composition. That means that you might have to move things around, like the chairs in this photo shoot, because you must see everything symmetrically.
For symmetric compositions, I use the D800's live view mode, of course. That way I can see exactly what I am doing on a big screen when using my laptop. Composition is much easier to realize if you can step back a little bit and see the screen.
When I use the live view mode on the Nikon D800, I set my composition and normally set the sharpest point very far back. This is very difficult to get exactly right. But within the live view mode, you can zoom in to your composition and set your sharpest point — you can easily sharpen the view manually with live view mode, and easily see at 100%, which is extremely useful.
The image quality I see in the D800 is very close to reality. The images that I've produced in the last few days are pretty spectacular and sharp. We were working at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and then at the Hôtel de Ville. In terms of sharpness, you could really see the details even in the small books across a huge room. There were hundreds, possibly thousands of books, and I could see details in each of them. This makes the image become so much more real.
I think Active D-Lighting is very helpful, especially in situations like this library, where bright sunlight filters through windows into dark rooms. But of course, one of the most important elements is sharpness, and that makes my lenses crucial. Nikon offers a huge variety of very precise lenses, including PC lenses, which are very important for my kind of work. In my opinion, the whole D800 package is perfect: I get to work with a small, relatively lightweight camera with 36-megapixel format and a great variety of lenses. The price is good as well, so it's like a little revolution in the market for photographers like me.
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