an interview with the the minds behind it
We are very proud that EyeGoBananas was selected as special guest for the upcoming “Observations 2017” festival. Monty May and Rainer Danne are the creative minds behind the fest, and we decided to ask them something secret about it.
EGB : Ciao Monty, let’s start with the basics…please introduce yourself.
MontyMay: My name is Michael ‘Monty May’, born 1958 in West Germany, married to the best wife of all, two elder sons, two fabulous dogs.
My profession: journalist, which means working as a staff photographer at a German newspaper for more than 25 years.
My interests in photography, besides street photography and newspaper photography, are shooting with iPhone and Hipstamatic.
My leisure activities and interests: (attempted) gourmet cooking, wine tasting (German white wine/French red wine), alternative/independent music, traveling with our mobile home through Europe, staring at the sea. My cameras: Nikon D700, Fuji X100T, Leica M4/M6.
EGB: Why did you get into street photography?
MM: On Wednesday 19/01/2011 I met Rainer Danne at our marketplace in Iserlohn and he told me about the ongoing project “Street Photography Now” of Thames and Hudson, and that famous Martin Parr had given a weekly instruction:
“Wait for the rain, it makes shooting on the street easier and more interesting.”
So I turned around, took this shot:
said to myself, “Okay, that was easy” and was hooked by the idea of becoming a street photographer.
EGB: You are part of the well known street collective Observe. Tell us how it all began and what motivates you to keep it running
MM: Four years ago, Danielle Houghton had the idea of founding a street photography collective with talented people she had known for a longer time from SPNP, SPNC and whom she was friends with in some private groups on flickr. Three photographers left the group in the first year for private reasons and were substituted with friends of our virtual family, such as Larry Hallegua, Oguz Ozkan, Ronen Berka and Tavepong Pratoowong, all well known names in the international street photography scene.
What motivates me to keep it running is the fact that we are all close friends, despite our different characters or styles in photography. We’re very honest and respectful towards each other. What really strikes me is the fact that everybody in the group has a special set of skills and knowledge which brings the collective forward and helps members improve and grow more self-conscious. Regardless of the different parts of the world, different time zones and different cultural environments we live in, we have a good team spirit.
EGB: You are currently organizing for the second year “Observations”, a street photography event that will take place in Iserlohn, Germany. Tell us about the project and what is the goal of the initiative?
MM: In 2015, Observe left the cyber space and dived into the real world with its members meeting in the flesh for the first time. We had our first exhibition in the highly esteemed Städtische Galerie in Iserlohn, which has always been well-connected to MAGNUM Paris National Geographics.Its back-catalogue comprises an impressive line-up of famous photographers for the last 30 years, which was when my above mentioned close friend Rainer started his job as the gallery’s manager.
The first exhibition starred Elliott Erwitt, followed by Sergio Larrain and Sebastiao Salgado. Big names like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Willy Ronis, Larry Towell, Harry Gruyaert, Steve McCurry, Paolo Pellegrin, and many more put their work on display inside these rooms. Our collective was very proud to have its first exhibition at this special location. A very motivational push for all of us and the growing idea of repeating this event and organizing a regularly festival in the future.
EGB: So this is the right time to ask something to Rainer. Ciao Rainer, nice to speak with you and thanks for your time. To start off, tell us something about you.
EGB: Iserlohn‘s Municipal Gallery has exhibited some of the greatest photographers of all time. What is it like to work with them?
RD: Actually, it’s quite easy. Most of these ‘famous’ photographers are really nice guys, absolutely laid-back and not in any sense pavonine. On the contrary, I always found them very professional, so it’s usually a real pleasure working with them. Maybe the reason for this is their great self esteem. They don’t need to prove anything. Younger photographers on the other hand often lack this attitude. Still, I wouldn’t call this a ‘handicap’ so to speak, just a lack of experience.
EGB: Do you consider it to be easier to curate the work of the Masters than the young talents / emerging photographer one’s?
RD: As I’ve said before, it’s often more complicated to curate the work of young talents. They have hardly enough good work for a bigger show so it’s much tougher to set up something really interesting. In contrast to that, it’s not a big thing to curate 100 master pieces, which are already part of our visual memory. Everybody knows the Cartier-Bressons and Salgados. As a curator, this is probably the most thrilling aspect of my work: to find younger talents and help them reach for the ‘ladder of fame’. And let me tell you: there are so many undiscovered talents out there that one curator’s life is not enough to do so.
EGB: Let’s come to the festival. How do you know Monty and where did you get the idea of creating such a great event that was so successful two years ago?
RD: The first time I met Monty was on a professional basis at an exhibition in the gallery. This was over 20 years ago and we have in fact become very close friends since then. We share the passion for photography, excellent wine and a good laugh which are three of the guiding lights in our lives. I told Michael about the Thames & Hudson project on street photography a couple of years ago. He entered the program and I started to follow the contest via internet. I was constantly amazed by the quality of the participants’ work. The foundation of the Observe Collective was kind of an extension of Thames & Hudson‘s contest and the members kept their level of excellence in matters of photography. Convinced about its quality, Michael and I developed the idea of bringing this virtual community into real life. This has been the birth of the very first exhibit of the Observe Collective in Iserlohn in 2015, accompanied by the fantastic photo contest “Under Construction” with more than 700 pictures from photographers from all over the world. Most of the Observers travelled to Iserlohn to meet in the flesh for the first time. But what was even more inspiring were all the other photographers who came over for just those few days. This first exhibit created a very dense and, in a way, crazy atmosphere. We were absolutely thrilled and, on the spot, decided to continue on this path. The Observations 2017 are the result.
EGB: What do you think about the term “street photography” and what does it mean to you? Of course it is an abused term, do you think it implies a set of rules the photographer needs to follow or is it more of an approach / way of seeing the world?
RD: Street photography, which had its first heights during the days of surrealism and humanistic photography, has been experiencing a unique renaissance via all the activities, competitions and the world wide web during the last few years. People are getting together, overcoming cultural and ethnic as well as geographical borders. This kind of exchange has become a new form of intercultural dialogue that builds bridges in the best sense of the word. Photographers are still primarily witnesses and story tellers. Life that’s enrolling in the streets of our world is sad, funny and completely absurd at every single moment – the same old story, the same old wonderful mystery and the same old question marks day by day. Photography has become a kind of international language which is understood everywhere around the globe, probably the “idioma universal” Goya dreamt of.
EGB: Now another question to mr Monty…Observe as host, EyeGoBananas and Full Frontal Flash will as guests at “Observations”. It seems that you appreciate photography collectives, why is it so?
MM: Our friends in Iserlohn, the gallery and Observe are hosting the little festival Observations 2017. We personally know members of FFF and EGB and we found that they have deserved to be showcased in Iserlohn for their continously good work the past few years.
I have already met the Bragdons, Johan Jehlbo in London, Edinburgh and Iserlohn and the Bananas in Rome and Iserlohn. You guys are an amazing bunch of people.
Inclusiveness and friendship is something very important for Observe. There are many collectives, but let’s just say that we don’t always share their respective spirits.
EGB: We got really excited for the location, an old tunnel in the city wall used during World War II. Tell us more and give us some secret insight!
MM: The FFF and EGB exhibition will definitely be one of the highlights of Observations 2017. The tunnel in the city wall is mostly unknown even to the people living right next to it. It’s a stunning historical location, a maze of several corridors, all in all about 250 meters long. During World War 2, it was a bomb shelter for 2500 people. Wounded soldiers were being amputated without any narcosis in its little side rooms. Very … ‘atmospheric’ indeed.
The tunnel has humidity level of 100%, which means a very big challenge for our printer Martin to manufacture waterproof gallery prints. ….And it’s really dark inside, but we found some clever solutions to make this event happen. I think you will publish some pictures of this event when you guys are in Iserlohn. We are all looking forward to meet all “Bananas” again.
EGB: And now the last question for Rainer.. How can you still stand Monty?
RD: No complaints from my side. He is the real engine and maker of the festival. The municipality is already discussing the right size and spot for his monument.
For more infos just click the image below!