“Suffer the pain of discipline or suffer the pain of regret.”
Montreal-based digital artist, Sean Mundy creates stunningly dark and conceptual photography, meant to challenge the perception of the audience. His self-portraits, together with his other minimalist creations stand for a memorable visual experience, embracing concepts such as fear, solitude, alienation or uncertainty, overly present in nowadays society. We had the pleasure to interview Sean Mundy and catch a glimpse of his artistic vision and what inspires him the most in his work:
✱ We would like to know a bit more about you as a person. Where did you grow up? What was your childhood like? Were you already interested in photography and visual art at a young age?
I grew up spending most of my time split between city life here in Montreal and my weekends and summers up north, about an hour and a half away from Montreal, in a very small community, in a heavily forested area. I was lucky enough to have parents who had friends and families up there and we had a cottage, so I spent my weekends and summers swimming in lakes, riding bikes through forests and sand pits, staring at stars in the summer evening, I was really fortunate. I was always interested in creative ventures (I wrote a lot as a child and started playing guitar around 11 or 12 for fun), but photography really became an interest of mine only when I was around 14 or 15.
✱ Both of your parents are musicians. Do you think growing up in an artsy family was a crucial aspect for you to become a photographer?
It definitely was. I was surrounded by creative energy from a young age and was instilled with a set of values from my parents that enabled me to strive for greater things for myself, despite being insecure at times. I knew that if I keep doing what I'm doing some great things would come from it eventually.
✱ Do you identify yourself more as a photographer or as a visual artist?
Definitely more as a visual artist, although I technically am a photographer. I just use photographs to make my final pieces; if I could paint or draw I would definitely do it to make my ideas come to life.
✱ You mentioned in a previous interview that a quote you find inspiring is “suffer the pain of discipline or suffer the pain of regret”. It motivates you to be less lazy and to get things done whenever you can. This made us wonder what keeps you going, apart from the discipline. What drives you to do what you do?
As morbid as it is, the idea that I will cease to exist is really inspiring. I feel like I have such a small window to make the things that I want to make, that it keeps a fire burning inside me to get the stuff in my mind out there into the world for others to enjoy. It would genuinely be a shame to die without having given the world all that I can, so that's a big thing that keeps me going. Also, I believe that art and music can potentially be lucrative, so if I could ever get to a position where I'm doing well for myself financially and be able to help others around me through my passion, I think that is something pretty incredible.
✱ Could you describe your style in three words? And please motivate why you choose them.
Confined, dark, and minimal. The figures in my images are often bound to or being stopped from something, they either can't get to where they want to be, or are being stopped by some force, so confined. Also dark, because I often find myself interested in creating darker visuals that speak to more underlying issues or concepts in the world, as opposed to simply making beautiful images. I just love art that has some kind of conceptual undertones going on, as well as beautiful imagery in one way or another. And minimal because as much as my images may be "busy" in certain ways, the actual content of the images is often quite limited; figures would be standing in large expanses of territory that is a solid white or grey, my compositions would be very centered and easy to read. There is nothing extra, everything is placed specifically for a reason.
✱ What distinguishes your work from other photographers? What makes it distinctive?
Not too much to be honest, but I think my style is cohesive enough that once you know my work, you can spot it among other photographers. My compositions are often very similar and my use of groups or sole figures is something I've done many times to the point that it feels like something unique for me, but of course I know of other people who have made similar things in the past, so nothing can be considered truly original. I think I'm quite good at having conceptual undertones in my images, paired with dark visuals, in a way that doesn't come off too corny. I think that's a line that people don't walk very easily, but I've found ways to do them both at the same time without appearing too preachy or too emo haha.
✱ Which artists inspired you the most? Any type of music that inspires you?
I'm greatly inspired by Nicolas Alan Cope for photography. I love a lot of music, but artists like Moderat, Jon Hopkins, LUCIANBLOMKAMP and Keith Kenniff are people I find truly inspiring.
✱ We are curious if you as a photographer also have particular habits or rituals before you start shooting? What are your secrets to a successful creative process?
I don't have anything really interesting that I do before shoots, other than trying to go over the steps that will need to be involved to create the final result I have in my mind. Being able to plan for the worst case scenario is a great way to ensure a successful shoot and my images in particular are quite staged before I create them, so it's really just a matter of sorting out the logistics of what will need to go into making the image.
✱ People often say that a mixture of talent, luck and perseverance leads to long-lasting success. Which factors do you believe have had a big impact and contribution in your case?
All of the three play a great part. I do think that I have some inherent talent from my parents, but I also know that I've been working hard for years at photography and art in general and with that comes luck, because the longer you do something, the more chances there are of something coming out of it. Just by putting my work on Instagram and Facebook over the years has led to some pretty awesome opportunities and being able to meet and talk with people that I never thought would ever know of my work.
✱ We read somewhere that you describe yourself as a doubtful person. Would you rather see this trait as a quality or weakness in relation to your work?
I think it's definitely a double-edged sword; I definitely believe that people that are more confident probably create more things, but I also believe that my doubt lead me to overthink things to the point where I am rarely surprised of my images or thought processes. I'm paranoid in a lot of ways so this helps me assume what may happen in worst case scenarios and be somewhat prepared. I'm envious of very confident people, but I think that doubt is a good thing that people should have, it forces you to think more and to think about how you think, as opposed to just doing things and not really being sure about why or how you're doing them.
✱ Would you say that, as a visual artist, it is necessary to have a unique style or a particular trademark?
Not really. It can help, of course, but I often find people that have specific styles often just re-create similar things over and over, myself included. I want to make more of an effort to not be predictable with my images, because I hate when other artists that are super talented and could do much more, end up being predictable with things they make and do not strive for a unique style. It is just about how cohesive can someone be, in regards to the body of artwork.
✱ You live in Montreal, do you consider this a photogenic city? Which other places are a source of inspiration for you?
I do, there's a lot of Brutalist architecture and concrete everywhere that I love, so it inspires me in a lot of ways when I stumble upon certain locations. Forests inspire me a lot, although I never know what to shoot in them, but any kind of abandoned area in a city or industrial parts of town inspire me in many ways. I just gravitate towards those kinds of buildings and environments, at least when it comes to image-making.
✱ The kind of pictures you take come with a lot of skills. Have you learnt all these techniques by yourself? Are there still things you would like to learn?
I learnt about 95% of the things I know from Youtube and from doing creative work and learning how to make things happen on the spot or due to necessity. I think you can learn a lot in school, but challenging yourself and coming up with ideas that you aren't sure of how to create is a great way to learn without the need for school. I want to learn how to make 3D works, it seems very intimidating but I want to combine 3D rendering software and photomanipulation together, so this is something I'm looking forward to. But very nervous about haha.
✱ Do your pictures always convey a particular message? Or is your work open for interpretation?
Not always, I usually have some vague idea in relation to an image, but I never make them too obvious, so that the images can be interpreted in certain ways potentially. Other times I make things purely for aesthetic reasons and not for the concept behind the visuals, yet because I make images with concepts people assume that all the images have some profound ideas behind them, which makes things interesting since people are searching for meaning when I literally intended for there to be none. That's the beauty of art though.
✱ How do you think you have developed yourself as a photographer/visual artist?
I've just consistently worked at making the ideas in my head become reality. I've never been someone who lacked inspiration in any way, I always had ideas. The hard part for me is getting the courage to make the ideas happen in real life, asking for help, organizing things, this is where the doubt comes in most and often stops me from reaching my full potential. But I've gotten much better at overcoming these things and realize that this is what I am doing with my life and the best I can do with my time. Why would I deprive myself of this?
✱ In which ways do you think your latest work differs from what you created earlier on?
My work now is much more cohesive and mature I think, but I'm always growing and learning new things. My style was kind of all over the place when I first started, but that's a good thing. Even now I wish I had more images that don't really "fit" into my body of work.
✱ We are big fans of your creations, especially the work shown in the ‘Hollow series’ is spectacular. Could you tell us a bit more about your reasons for this series and the overall journey?
Hollow was my first attempt at making a cohesive series of work and it is a surreal depiction of ritualistic behaviours and ideologies that persevere in daily modern life. I was fascinated with a triangular composition (that all the images have), so I decided to make the images follow an almost ritualistic pattern of alternating the focal point of the images from up to down, to enact control in my art pieces, since in a lot of ways I, like many others, feel I have no control over many things in my life. Ultimately I wanted to show how empty a lot of the values or systems in our lives are. The images are a combination of either hundreds of self-portraits combined or many mixed shots of a few friends.
✱ What can we expect from you in the near future? What would be the ultimate achievement for you?
In the near future I want to create a lot more content for people who support and follow me, to give back to the community and to showcase other aspects of my creative side, through Youtube videos, in-depth Photoshop run throughs, a lot more music and video work and of course photo projects!
The ultimate achievement for me would be to be able to make enough money from my passion to help my friends and loved ones achieve similar goals and to create organizations to help young creative artists and entrepreneurs alike to achieve their full potential. I obviously would love to have a certain level of personal and financial success, but being able to give something and help others is definitely the end goal for me in the long term!