Angie McMonigal

An award-winning fine art photographer, Angie’s work has been internationally exhibited and published in publications such as: National Geographic, SHOTS Magazine, Rfoto Folio, Stark Magazine and F-stop Magazine. She has received awards from the International Photography Awards (IPA) and Prix de la Photographie Paris” (Px3) Awards, among others, and worked with global brands, such as Starwood Hotels & Resorts Inc., as well as local and national art consultants and private collectors.

Tell us a little about who you are?

I'm a mom to a nearly 8-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son. Both of whom keep me very busy all on their own. Married to a wonderful, extremely supportive guy I've known since the 1st grade. We grew up in the same small town in central Wisconsin, went our separate ways to college and reconnected just before graduation. Shortly after college we both moved to Chicago, he about seven months before I did...still not quite sure why I didn't do it right away. I love this city, its energy and, of course, its architecture. I am, after-all, predominately an architectural photographer.

How did you come to photography?

It's one of those things that I always remember being interested in. I remember looking through my stepdad's National Geographic magazines and being amazed by the photography; the traveling and thinking that would be such an amazing life to live. But I didn't grow up in an artistic home. My mom is very creative in terms of interior design and aesthetics, but she came to doing that a little later in life. My mom was always very practical. Emphasis on getting a degree in something practical, something I could find a job doing. All my studies revolved around math and science courses, even in high school. Then in college I couldn't afford a camera to take the elective photography class so once again that interest was put on hold. In 2001, my boyfriend (now husband) bought me my first SLR and from there I taught myself the technical aspects of photography by reading magazines and books. Later I took some classes at the Chicago Photography Center to learn darkroom skills, developing and printing. Eventually, an opportunity to participate in a group show after completing a couple of classes peaked my interest.

Walt Disney Concert Hall - Los Angeles - Copyright Angie McMonigal 

The photo left is the Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, architect Frank Gehry, tell us about this and why you composed it as you did.

Hands down one of my favorite buildings I’ve ever photographed. His designs fall into the style of architecture called Deconstructivism, which is characterized by unpredictability and controlled chaos.

I think the reason I’m drawn to this type of architecture is because there is this level of chaos upon first seeing the building. It’s fun and challenging to find a way to create something orderly and harmonious.

By focusing on a small segment of the structure and creating an abstract or nearly abstract take there’s a sense of order created.

This particular building has fluid curves and sharp angles, both of which I wanted to emphasize. As I framed this section of the building I lined up the edge of the building in the bottom left corner that pulls the eye up to its sharp edge in the soft clouds, creating a nice juxtaposition. Whenever I see clouds like this, my goal is to find a way to incorporate this natural element with the manmade.  It almost looks to me like the curved left side of the building is releasing the clouds.

There’s also that juxtaposition of the sharp angles and fluid curves on both sides of the building.

You and I met over Google+ and then in person at the Vision Explorer’s Long Exposure Workshop in Chicago. Since the workshop, your work shows bits and pieces of long exposure, how much do you use today and how do you view long exposure technique? In other words, how do you incorporate it into your work today and why?

Yes, so glad to have met you! And especially glad we got a chance to meet in person at the Vision Explorer's Long Exposure Workshop.

I’m glad as well!

In all honesty, I never use long exposure and never really had any intentions of doing so, even when I signed up for the workshop. My main goal with that workshop was to get some direction regarding the vision aspect of photography. As much as I greatly admire LE photography and the discipline and patience that go along with it, I have very little interest in working this way. I'm a very impatient person, and there's something about using a tripod and lots of equipment that seems to inhibit my creativity, it just disrupts my flow and creative process when I'm out shooting. On the rare occasion, I use a tripod it's likely at night.

I remember we had this same conversation before you signed up to do the workshop. Since that workshop, your use of light and dark or pulling attention to certain parts of your shots started to creep into your work. Do you think this is true?

Sometimes it's hard to see my work as objectively as others. I'm just too close to it, and it's all such a slow evolution, nothing feels like a dramatic or rapid change. Pinpointing exact influences and changes in my work is hard to do. But I do have an admiration for darker, moodier, contrast photography. LE often feels this way to me, so I'm sure this has influenced my post-processing.

Milwaukee Art Museum - Milwaukee - Copyright Angie McMonigal

The photo left is an interior from the Milwaukee Art Museum, architect Santiago Calatrava, tell us about this and why you composed it as you did.

With this particular shot, I wanted a symmetrical view with the focus on the lines in the windows as well as the reflections of those lines on the floor.

The darker foreground anchors the image with the reflected lines leading you toward the middle ground up into the lines in the windows to the view of the frozen lake and architectural detail centered at the top.

Initially, I was waiting for everyone in the lobby to walk out of the frame because I wanted the focus solely on the form of the building. However, my daughter decided to walk right into the frame as everyone else left. At first I was going to yell at her to move but having her in the scene with her reflection complimenting the line reflections she added scale and another point of interest to the image.

When we first met a few years ago, you were photographing the architecture of Chicago in a wider view, cityscapes, and today a more narrow view with features of the architecture. What changed and how do you see your photography changing in the last two years? Maybe you haven’t seen it change at all?

A few years ago I was just discovering that architecture was what I most preferred photographing. I had come from doing portrait work, almost exclusively, for 5-6 years before we met and knew this was not where I wanted to place focus. Around the time we met, I was pushing myself to get in the habit of photographing more consistently, setting specific times each week to work on photography. I think this made the biggest difference in the quality and direction of my work. By shooting more regularly, I began discovering what most appealed to me in terms of subject matter, composition and post-processing. While I still occasionally shoot wider cityscapes my real interest lies in the details. I was only able to discover this by making a regular practice of photography and reviewing my work from one day to the next.

Some time ago you explored contemplative photography. Tell us a little about what that is and how you incorporate it into your work, if at all.

I had never heard of contemplative photography and then someone wrote a blog post for 500px and shared one of my images citing it as a good example of contemplative photography. Of course, I had to look into what that was. I've read a book or two on it, one you recommended actually, and I have to say I'm still not entirely sure what it means. I guess, for me, it's focus and attention on the overlooked and unseen. Maybe a more meditative way of looking at things, simplifying, organizing and making sense out of the messiness or just the wider environment. It's honestly not something I'm consciously thinking about when I'm shooting; it's just how I naturally see things, what draws me in and what makes this fun for me.

One of the most striking changes I’ve seen in your work over the last few years is how strong your compositions have become. Do you feel you have become a stronger photographer, compositionally speaking?

Just like with anything, the more you practice, the more time you put in, the better you get. Not only in years but also in the amount of time you spend with your subject. What I notice with a lot of photographers, or at least when they're first starting, is that they rush by their subject looking for that one magical shot. They don't put the time in to get to know what they're photographing. Whether that is a person, building, a city, a flower, whatever it is. I think with experience, and maybe age, you come to realize that each subject has its nuances. Spending the time researching and exploring, looking for the essence of your subject is what gets you those magical images. It's not happenstance; it's putting in the work and being ready and there when the right moment presents itself and being able to recognize what is the right moment.

Art Institute of Chicago - Copyright Angie McMonigal

The photo left is an interior from the Art Institute of Chicago, tell us about this and why you composed it as you did.

The curved, question mark shape makes for the perfect architectural subject. 

Of course, I created many images of this staircase, most devoid of people and some in more abstracted form, but this is my favorite. 


You have the pleasing form of the curved staircase, and the little boy cautiously grasping the railing gives the image greater emotion and a natural human connection while also giving the staircase scale. 

In most of my images, I like to use the corner of the frame as either a starting or ending point. Here I think the eye is initially drawn to the curve at the top of the image. The curve then brings you down through the staircase into the bottom left corner, which gives the image grounding or a definitive ending place. The boy’s direction also aides in that movement through the image.

How do you know when a composition is strong?

Of course, there are things I know to be looking for when I'm out shooting but that wasn't always the case, it took trial and error to see what works for me compositionally. Since my photography is on the more abstracted side, a lot of the time it's about minimizing and narrowing the focus of the overall scene. By removing distracting elements and zeroing in on sections of the building or structure. Looking for repetitive patterns, symmetry, lines converging in the corners of the frame, layering of architectural elements to give the image some depth.  Finding interesting ways to frame the subject, remembering to put me in different locations to get a unique perspective.

Have you spent time studying composition and visual design elements? If so, how have you done this? Books, workshops, studying master painters?

I'm drawn to experiencing things that likely help with this, like visiting museums, looking at paintings and others photographs, being more aware of framing when I watch movies. Lately, I've been more interested in reading books about architects and understanding their designs. I would love to spend more time reading biographies of painters, photographers, architects and directors I admire or who intrigue me.

One of the great art professions, besides painters, that utilize strong visual design elements, is architects. Have you discovered anything interesting in understanding their designs? In other words, how has understanding how they communicate through architecture, helped you in photography?

Good architects have a consistency in their designs, from one building or project to another. The best are inspired by the building's surroundings and environment and its future use to create something tangible, something useful yet something inspirational of their own. I'd like to think that my inspiration from their designs allows me to reinterpret what I see to create something new and inspiring in my way.

Chicago "L" - Copyright Angie McMonigal

The photo left is an icon of Chicago, tell us about this and why you composed it as you did.

This is the busiest section of the Chicago ‘L’ and the Lake & Wells parking garage offers a fantastic birds-eye view. 

I made this particular shot from the top level of the garage. While I created some images, what I  wanted to capture was multiple trains coming through this intersection at the same time, emphasizing that busyness.

his was mainly just a waiting game. I had difficulty getting myself far enough away from the side of the garage and there was a lot of blind shooting involved. Holding my camera over the edge and as parallel to the tracks as possible, waiting to hear the trains come through. It's just one of those images that epitomize Chicago. 

Are there certain things you look for in a scene to convey feeling, emotion or story?

With my particular way of photographing I think the story is about seeing the unseen, noticing those things that are in plain site yet most often overlooked and creating images that shed new light on these common subjects.

Who’s work inspires you today?

Photographers that inspire me are Susan Burnstine, Brian Sokolowski, Nima Taradji, Jason Peterson, Julian Escardo, Andy Lee, and Cole Thompson. Susan Burnstine, I seriously adore her work, there's so much emotion and feeling to her images. I love Cole Thompson's work and his vision, his way of approaching photography. I'm also inspired by architects: Frank Gehry, Santiago Calatrava, Zaha Hadid, and Jeanne Gang. Other artists: Georgia O'Keeffe, Kandinsky, Monet, Alexander Calderand writer Ayn Rand.

It is interesting you place the writer and philosopher, Ayn Rand, in your list of other artists who inspire you. What is it about her work that offers inspiration? Of the artists and architects you mention, those who aren't photographers, is there a thread of similarity as to why you like them? Possibly not, I know most and will look up the others I do not know. But, is there something about their collective work that has some similarity to you? If so, what might that be?

In a very simplistic way, I appreciate the sense of independence, clarity of vision and determination her characters convey. Does it directly inspire my work, maybe not, other than the reminder to stay true to myself artistically? Too often in the past I'd let comments and criticisms of my work get to me. I think to create something meaningful it has to come from a place that makes sense to me and brings me happiness. Of course, I hope it brings something meaningful to those viewing my work, but that's not the driving force. Right or wrong, I think art is a very selfish endeavor.

WE Energies Pavilion - Chicago - Copyright Angie McMonigal

The photo left is WE Energies Pavilion in Chicago, architect Jeanne Gang, tell us about this and why you composed it as you did.

This is also one of my favorite locations in Chicago, the WE Energies Pavilion in Lincoln Park, designed by one my favorite Architects, Jeanne Gang, founder and principal of Studio Gang Architects. What I love about her designs is she pulls inspiration from the environment in which the building or structure is to be built. This pavilion is at the South Pond in Chicago’s Lincoln Park; her design is influenced by the tortoise shell.

I’ve photographed this structure many times, but this most recent visit was after 3+ years of focusing on creating mini-series from each location I visit. Surprisingly, the very first time I set out to create a specific one-day, one-visit series of a subject was this structure. 

This structure inherently lends itself to seeing repetitive patterns. One of the ways to emphasize those repetitive patterns is to create an abstract. What I was looking for was a way to have one of the wavy shells begin in the bottom right corner to begin pulling your eye through the image. The larger shells in the bottom right of the frame pull you up and over to the smaller shells in the bottom left giving you that arching feeling that is a part of the pavilion’s overall structure as well as the individual shells that make up the whole.

Do you have anything you would like to share that I haven’t asked?

Just to say thank you so much for the interview. What an honor!