To be honest (1), I was shocked to find that I wasn’t following Paola Franqui (aka, and hereafter, “Monaris”) on Instagram. Her lovely street photographs that remind me so much of a) Saul Leiter and b) color grading ca. ~2016 are ubiquitous on various magazine accounts on the app and you’ve no doubt seen the beautiful work, even if, like me, you don’t actually follow her. Don’t get me wrong, you should, really, if only to see her work in her own context, rather than in the context of some random dude’s (or, more likely, algorithm’s) favs feed. Momentos is her first monograph. I learned of it from a Setanta Books‘ email and ordered a copy almost straight away.
Momentos is one of the more beautifully, luxuriously designed photobooks in my over-large collection. The paper is heavyweight, dark grey, and satiny, and the pictures are individually varnished. They seem to float on the page, slick, glossy, luminous… sorta like they appear on my phone, albeit much larger. Three double gatefolds (without the gloss finish) and a couple of two page spreads (with the gloss finish) provide nice pauses, along with some audible oohs and ahs. To be honest (2), it’s so slickly and beautifully designed that I have sort of a hard time focusing on the pictures themselves.
On the rare moments that I am able to really look at the pictures, my mind keeps going to Saul Leiter, whose Early Black & White and Early Color came to my collection well before the unboxings began, and so I’ve never reviewed them… I should change that one day. Anyway. You’re likely aware of Leiter, if only from the same Insta-zines that regularly feature Monaris’ work, and probably don’t need my blather to appreciate his mid-20th Century brilliance.
Leiter came by his color honestly: he used the color film available at the time on the streets of NYC, and !bang!: there was the color. Monaris comes by her color equally honestly: Sony files, the streets of NYC, Paris, London, Tokyo, etc., and Adobe Lightroom, and !beepbopboop!, there’s the color.* If you expected me to claim that Monaris’ tools and photographs were somehow less honest than Leiter’s, you’re mistaken. Sure, one or two of the photographs in Momentos look just a hair overcooked, to me, with vignettes that are a bit too cool or too warm, a bit too even, too dark, etc. And sure, most all of her digital photographs are very well-cooked in the digital darkroom, but then Leiter’s color is all about Kodachrome or whatever and he did some work in the darkroom too, plus, by the time the books came to me, his slides had been scanned and graded to there and back by Steidl. Shoot, I’ve done a bit of cooking of my own film work in CaptureOne Pro, so I don’t begrudge. Beautiful color is beautiful color, no matter how you get to it.
Leiter jumped from theology to painting and photography, and his artistic sensibility drove his work. Monaris trained in Criminal Justice… and my limited imagination can’t see a link between that and the innate color sense and feeling for mood that drives her work. I could say something about surveillance, I guess, and there is a clear sense of waiting, camera held just so, for the specific, if not decisive, moment. Few of her subjects look directly into the camera, and when they do, their glances are inscrutable, and the vast majority engage in private moments of contemplation, reminiscence, reverie. I suspect Monaris is more interested in finding a suggestive moment, a moment that suggests, nay, encourages, demands, a before and after. In many of the pictures, I almost hear the rustle of fabric, the car horn; in most, though, there’s a silence as Monaris—and we, as viewers long after the fact—look into a private moment, as if somehow, in the middle of a bustling world city, Monaris found and preserved a peaceful moment of solitude. It’s some lovely work.
Overall, Momentos rates a solid, recommended, 4 stars.
Momentos remains available from Setanta and fine booksellers worldwide. Really, if you have any interest in color photography, street photography, or how to get featured on that Instagram magazine account, you need to be following @monaris_. She’s active on Twitter as well, but, really, the ‘gram is the place. If you’re still not convinced, her website features many of the pictures from the book, and, yes, they look even better in the book, but go check out her site anyway.
*At time of writing, Monaris is a Sony Ambassador and Adobe Lightroom Partner.
**I’m not a shill… I paid for the book myself and write these reviews for myself first. But I’ve been so snide about Monaris’ book that I owe her some plugging, so Go Buy a Copy!