Angie McMonigal | Chicago

Hi Angie, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself? When did you first decide you wanted to become a photographer?
I currently live in Chicago and have for most of the last 15 years. Originally I’m from a small town in central Wisconsin but have always been drawn to big cities. I moved here shortly after college and shortly after that began photographing as a hobby. Things gradually took off from there.

I can’t say I ever fully consciously made the decision to become a photographer. I’ve always done it for the fun of it, because it’s something that I enjoy and am excited about. Over time opportunities have come up and I’ve pursued those. Not to say I don’t put a lot of work or thought into my photography but it’s been a very gradual evolution from hobby to profession.

What drew you to architecture as a subject of your work?
This has always been a tough question for me to answer. I don’t have the obvious connection to architecture that a lot of architectural photographers do with previous careers as architects or engineers. I think it simply stems from my love of big cities, the awe I feel wandering around the skyscrapers and the energy of a big city. Growing up in such a small town, the stark contrast has always been intriguing. I also love that there’s as much a science to architecture as there is an art form. My professional background before photography was scientifically based. So, I guess, I feel there’s some relatability to that dichotomy, the need to explore both sides of my personality.

Do you have a favorite architect? 
I have a few…. I adore the work of Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry and Santiago Calatrava. I recently discovered David Adjaye’s work, which is also inspiring. There are two Chicago architects I particularly admire as well, Jeanne Gang and Juan Moreno.

I love the sculptural form of so many of their designs. Their interesting use of lines and curves, their emphasis on taking the building or structures environment into consideration with each design

How did you cultivate your sense of composition?
I’ve been asked about this a lot lately and it’s another difficult question for me to put into words. It’s not really anything I’ve necessarily sought out to do. I haven’t studied books on composition and don’t consciously think about all the rules of composition when I’m out shooting….the rule of thirds, the golden ratio, leading lines, etc. I think it’s been more a matter of what feels right when framing a shot, trying different things and seeing what looks and feels right for each subject. Of course, much of what feels right ends up falling within those tried and true rules but it’s also about knowing when to break the rules. For example, I love symmetry and centering your subject has long been one of those compositional killers. But with the right subject it just works.

How do you prepare yourself before shooting a building?
On a typical day of shooting I tend to choose one building to focus on. This allows me to spend more time exploring the building and studying its intricacies. I’ll generally research whom the architect was and if there was anything that inspired the design. I do a Google image search to see what vantage points others have used and what seems to be a common approach to the building. While this might influence my initial approach and I may recreate something similar to what others have already done, I also use this as a means to push myself to see things in a new way and move beyond what seems to be the more obvious shot.

I don’t pre-plan my shots; I know many photographers that will sketch the shot they intend to make. I prefer to leave the specifics open to interpretation once on location, to walk around the building, study it, get a feel for how the light is interacting with the structure and go from there. So much of how I shoot depends on my mood, the weather and light. Regardless of whatever planning I do I can't always account for everything. I think it's good to leave some level of openness to the moment.

What are some of your methods to stay motivated, focused and expressive?
I find the best way to stay motivated is to just make the time to go out and shoot. Even if I may not be in the mood or feeling particularly inspired, just forcing myself to get out almost always gets me excited to be photographing. Studying other photographer’s work I find inspiring also helps. However, sometimes I just need a break to recharge, to read something unrelated to photography, go to concerts, just live life. We all need those breaks to connect with those in our lives and to experience things outside of photography. These experiences shape how we see the world and can bring about a renewed motivation.

What was one of your biggest lessons learned since starting your practice?
To tune out the opinions of others and to shoot what and how I want, to edit the way that works for me. A few years ago I think there was a lot of insecurity about whether my images were any good and I was taking criticism/advice far too personally. Not to mention all these conflicting opinions from one person to the next; I felt nothing but confused and it showed in my work. I decided to stop asking for input and to just shoot what was fun for me. If it resonated with people, fantastic; but first and foremost I needed to be creating something that resonated with me. 

At the end of the day only I know what my intentions are when creating each image, only I know what I want to say through my work and what I want the final result to look and feel like. 

There’s nothing wrong with seeking constructive criticism from those you trust, whose work you admire and respect, but, ultimately, you need to decide if it makes sense with your final vision.

What advice would you give to photographers wanting to work in the world of architecture?There are numerous ways to approach photographing architecture, or any subject for that matter. Figure out what you most enjoy about photographing architecture. Do it for yourself, for the fun of it, develop your unique way of seeing your subjects and become very good at it. Having some level of consistency is key but don’t forget to play and experiment and try new things. From genres to techniques, you never know how it might influence future work.

What do you think - why are not many female architectural photographers around?
I’d say there aren’t a lot of female photographers in any genre compared to men. I don’t really know why. Maybe because so many photographers interested in architectural photography have a background as an architect or engineer, which are both heavily dominated male fields.

You have shot a lot of buildings over the past years - do you have a favorite?
Two of my favorites are the Frank Gehry designed Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angles and the Santiago Calatrava designed Milwaukee Art Museum. There are endless photographic possibilities with both.