Monica Menez is an award-winning fashion photographer and filmmaker from Stuttgart, Germany. Whether she is working on a photoshoot or a fashion movie, her vivid imagery is accentuated with moments of absurdity, humour and eroticism. As such, her distinctive style is instantly recognizable and presents fashion in a fresh and unique way.
After having won various awards for her photography, Menez has also won prestigious awards for her films, such as the Berlin Fashion Film Festival 2013 Award in the category “Best Fashion Film” and the Madrid Fashion Film Festival Award for “Best fashion film international”. Menez’s success story continued in 2014 with the ASVOFF “Best Art Direction” Award, this time for “The Journey”. The film, was praised by critics as one of the best fashion films ever made, and also won prizes at the 2015 Miami Fashion Film Festival: “Best Film Audience Award” and “Best Cinematography”.
Here we feature a selection of Menez’s photography shot with the Leica S and Leica SL. While we also interviewed the in-demand artist about her approach to studio work, her inimitable style and how she goes about concepting her shoots.
When did you first pick up a camera and how did you go on to become a fashion photographer and filmmaker?
It was during my teenage years that I picked up a camera and took pictures of myself in various outfits. A short while after that I started to take pictures of my friends and my little sister. When I think about it now it becomes clear to me that I have always tried to stage my shots. I enjoyed working with models from the very beginning – in contrast to taking photos of landscapes, which I never did.
I originally wanted to study graphic design. A crucial part of the entrance examination was photography. While I was in preparation for the exam, I became increasingly attracted to photography. For that reason, I decided to undertake an apprenticeship with a commercial photographer. After that, I worked as a press photographer. During that time, I came into contact with fashion photography.
Which photographers/filmmakers have inspired your style? And where else do you source your inspiration?
In the field of photography my all-time heroes are Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton. When it comes to film my idols are John Waters and Jacques Tati. When I am working on a film, I draw inspiration from music in particular. For photo projects I source my ideas from basically anything – a piece of clothing, shoes, a certain fabric or a specific colour that catches my eye.
How do you normally go about creating a concept for your shoots?
This depends on the medium. When I do a photoshoot, I decide whether I want to tell a story or depict bodies in an abstract form. In terms of film a good storyline and a great location are essential. Sometimes I discover an inspiring location, and then I build a story around that particular place. Other times, I already have a story in my head, so I start to build the setting and the entire concept around it.
Your photo shoots, as well as your fashion films, display a very choreographic feel. Where does this aesthetic come from?
I have always been fascinated with ballet, even as a child. The bodies of dancers and the way they express emotions through their body is very inspiring to me. In other words: I admire dancers in motion, and I enjoy implementing a choreographic feel into my films alongside the music that I use. I love to work with expressive dancers or models that have a good physical feeling.
You work with simple, colour backdrops in your studio work, which often harmonize with the clothes and skin tones of your models. How do you approach creating the colour schemes of your shoots?
The first and most important preparation that I do before any kind of shoot is to create a colour moodboard. This way I establish the colour world, in which the photos or film will be shot. Most of my moodboards consist of three to five colours. My preferences for certain colours change from time to time, but I generally favour pastels.
Your fashion photography also stands out thanks to the abstract composition and posing of your subjects. When did you start working like this? And why do you tend to focus less on the classic look-to-camera approach?
Before 2010 I solely worked as a photographer. Already at that time I tried to tell stories with my photos. However, it was very difficult to convey a story within only a couple of individual images. Since I started filming in 2011, this problem just went away, and I can now tell stories through the medium of film. At the same time, the style of my photos went in a more abstract direction.
The thing with the look-to-camera approach is that I focus more on the shape of the body rather than on a model’s face. I feel that an emphasis on the face would disturb and eventually ruin the abstract feeling that I try to create in my work.
In many of these images your models are interacting with the set, certain objects or the clothes themselves. At times this can lead to very humorous results and at others it creates a very sensual, tactile feel to your images. How important are both a humorous approach and sensuality to your photography?
Humour is very important to me. I love to create images that are special and make the viewer smirk. Humour is something that’s rarely found in the world of fashion photography, so I try to bring it into this cosmos.
When did you start shooting with Leica cameras? And what do you appreciate most about the Leica S and Leica SL systems?
I started shooting with Leica cameras in 2016 after I had been contacted by the Leica S-Magazine. They gave me the opportunity to test the Leica S system for a photo series. I have been a Leica fan ever since, and I use both cameras depending on the requirements of the shoot. I love the look, so I shot my film “Bello” with the Leica SL in combination with a cine lens.
What are you working on at the moment? And what can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
At the moment I am making preparations for a new fashion film, which I will hopefully shoot in the Fall. Besides that, I am continuously working on freelance photo projects, so there will be a lot to see in the near future.
What one piece of advice do you wish you’d received when you started out as a fashion photographer?
The most important advice a young fashion photographer can get is to work on their own, unique style. This style has to be distinguishable from others – it is so important to have a distinct imagery instead of copying styles that are already out there.