Óscar Monzón, Karma

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2013 by RVB Books (here) and Dalpine (here). Softcover, 128 pages, with 70 color photographs. There are no essays or texts included. This book recently won the Paris Photo – Aperture Foundation First Photobook award (here).

Comments/Context: Óscar Monzón’s book Karma is an intrusive, aggressive, voyeuristic invasion. Taken at night as cars idled at Madrid intersections, his pictures push inside the cocoon of privacy we delusionally think our cars provide, capturing a spectrum of hidden expressions and usually unseen emotions. Executed in full page bleeds and printed on high gloss paper, the book is slick and flashy, just like the invasive glare that blasts from its pages.

Monzón’s photographs fall somewhere between paparazzi photos and Weegee’s crime scenes, with an eye for the sleek abstraction of isolated car parts and up-close faces. The book is divided into five sections (separated by stylized letter fragments from the book’s title), and the first sequence alternates back and forth between pockmarked car hoods and mottled human skin, where gestural scratches and wrinkles create a kind of visual rhythm. Monzón then moves overhead to a perch on the overpass, making pictures that look straight down at the autos stopped underneath. Cars become shiny, primary colored technology pods, with slices of passengers seen through distorted windshields and open sun roofs.

The next two sections become increasingly intimate, with drivers and riders caught in all kinds of expected and unexpected behaviors: chopping out lines of cocaine on a spiral bound notebook, eating a sandwich, fondling a vibrator, spinning a pen in boredom, looking at a photo album, arguing, kissing, fighting, blocking their eyes from the flash, and gripping the steering wheel in white-knuckled, impatient aggravation. Monzón’s angles are skewed and interrupted, hands and faces slashed, framed, and disembodied by the kaleidoscopic arcs and edges of the cars. The final section telescopes in to the eyes of his trapped subjects, captured at first in dark, nighttime isolation and ultimately brought closer and closer, like prey in his sights.

Seen together and in careful sequence, Monzón’s images capture a sense of private, interrupted rawness, of something slightly manic simmering just below the surface of our everyday commutes. This book clamors and shouts, assaulting the viewer with bright colors, twisted perspectives, and flash-lit intensity, forcing us into the chaos of the congested traffic and the tension of the humanity ensconced there. There is verve and vitality here, infusing surveillance photography with a new kind of passion.

Collector’s POV: I was unable to discover any gallery representation for Óscar Monzón, so interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the artist (via the site linked in the sidebar) or with the two publishers.

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Read more about: Óscar Monzón, Dalpine, RVB Books

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