His work is a search for the quiet and simple, and his main objective is to capture the silence of nature through his pictures. Manuel Moncayo is originally from Mexico but has swapped the tropical weather and virgin beaches for the cold and concrete buildings that characterize Berlin, where he curiously has found the openness in nudity. He’s got a sharp eye for men and nature, and by looking at his pictures not only your eyes but also all your senses get to work; through it, you can almost smell the earthy scent of forests or tease the taste of menthol on your tongue.
Hi Manuel, let me shine the first light on you: who are you, where do you come from and what do you do?
My name is Manuel, I come from Guadalajara (México) and I photograph and organise exhibitions.
How did you get into photography?
In 2011 I went on a trip through Mexico with my friend Javier and we decided to take naked pictures of him in several landscapes including nature. The material became highly inspirational and I fell in love with the process of doing it, therefore I decided to keep on photographing. In 2012 I asked my friend Gabriela Rojas to teach me how to use my camera; I owe her all my knowledge, she is my school. Ever since I have been photographing every day.
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You come from Mexico but live in Berlin. How and why did this happen? Does living in a city influence your artistic practice?
To Mexico, I owe my love for nature. I grew up very close to the Pacific Ocean and I spent plenty of time in the look for virgin beaches and far away places where I could be on my own. To Berlin, I owe the openness to nudity.
The green of the woods and the blue of the waters and skies are the backgrounds (or sometimes even the front) of your photographs. And then there is the man. Standing in front of it all, blending in it, and adding the skin tone to the eye-melting cocktail of colours that is the essence of your work. Can you tell us why are these the themes that you pursue?
I come from a background in design where the production of images is done in a calculated and elaborate way; my fascination for nudity starts as an escape from it, a research for visual power in simplicity. I photograph in empty spaces, mostly nature, because I would like my pictures to have no references to the times we live in. This relates to the socio-political, and to the constant saturation of the modern living.
What is your connection with nature, which is very present in your work?
I like the silence of nature because of the lack of human interaction. Silence, in general, is what I am looking for when I work. Nature is full of it, you can’t add much to it.
“I like the silence of nature because of the lack of human interaction. Silence, in general, is what I am looking for when I work.”
Are there other subjects that you like photographing?
I photograph plenty of stuff that I do not publish: people whom I love, architecture, dance pieces, drag queens, nightlife, and everyday stuff.
Who are the people you take pictures of?
Mostly strangers, guys I meet on networks who are not used to being photographed. People I like to keep a souvenir from. People I like to go for walks with.
We mainly see male models in your pictures. And to me, your gaze towards men reminds me of Ryan McGinley’s (characterized by freedom and the connection with nature) as well as the long homoerotic tradition in photography. Who are your main referents or sources of inspiration?
I do not follow much and definitely not for long; I am attracted to new things. I like Cyprien Gaillard because his work is about destruction, I am fascinated by it because it’s the opposite of what I do and it’s also pleasant aesthetically. I like to watch music videos (I spend a lot of time doing this). I could mention Koudlam as my old time favourite. Music is important too, mostly I like to listen to it when I am alone. At the moment I fancy chill songs like Czech One by King Krule and Loverboy by Lomboy.
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Nudity is a subject of fascination for a lot of people – moral philosophers, psychologists, artists, etc. It really intrigues/provokes me, how corrupt and innocent at the same time the word ‘naked’ sounds, and also, how natural and uncomfortable and sinful can the state of nakedness feel. It is in many ways opposing itself. What is your view on nudity?
Society is often ruled by ignorance, in most countries being naked in public is illegal, even when not stated as such in the constitution but morality rules apply. We are born naked, without language or legal status. All the rules we have created to prevent modern civilisation from crushing are often just that: a construction. My view on nudity is not glamourized or political, it is what it is, a very simple concept: nature, nothing more to add.
As I said in a previous question, your work has a high homoerotic feeling to me, although it’s not sexual at all. What style are you looking for? How do you manage to make models look this sensual but not hyper-sexualized?
The father of my good friend Sofia is a sculptor and when I started photographing naked guys we had a conversation that is until these days ruling how I work. He mentioned that when you work with people as subjects you have to get from them only what you are interested in because people perceive how you photograph/sketch/paint them. So I believe it is just that, getting their beauty, their silence.
Could you share a story from a photo shoot? Did you ever come across something odd, like being accused of public nudity or got a wild boar in the frame?
I do not think there have been odd experiences as such, but I often have to think about a guy whom I photographed that later on I met with my friends by chance and he told them that I have a strange power when it comes to giving direction: ‘If Manuel says jump, you just do it and it feels natural’. I had to laugh. And also people are very open to me about their lives and secrets while I am photographing them, it seems like nudity creates a certain kind of confidence.
“We are born naked, without language or legal status. All the rules we have created to prevent modern civilisation from crushing are often just that: a construction.”
Do you work analogue or digital? Does postproduction play a role in your photographs?
I work with digital. I do some postproduction but only when it comes to light; the bodies and landscapes stay the same.
You present your work in your online diary, you make exhibitions, but a lot of your projects are published in a form of a book. Is giving your photos a physical form other than ‘just’ prints somehow crucial to you or is it more of a practicality?
Prints are good to pay the rent. Books are like a brain analysis because you create mental maps of what you are working on and I find them useful to get a new direction on where to go next.
Now the ultimate future question: what do you see in your oracle crystal ball?
Wishful thinking: lots of work, travelling to Japan to photograph guys there, going back to Mexico to present my work in my hometown, even making music videos? Perhaps a short film on the long run.
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