Mio Monasch is a Seattle-based travel and outdoor lifestyle photographer who has a strong connection with the wilderness. He has worked with a long list of brands around the world and likes to immerse himself in telling stories that are focused on impact.
With his distinctive selection of prenuptial portraits, Mio Monasch creates an inimitable sketch of Indian marriage in Washington State
“I don’t want to create the best image, just because I can. You need truth. Accuracy. How it felt, smelt, what you saw, what you heard. My values have changed and grown over the years. It’s about people. The experience. The connection. If it’s already there, why change it?”
Easily pigeonholed, the world of wedding photography is renowned for its airbrushed expressions, brassy lighting and predictable poses. Rather than reproduce the true sensations of the ‘special day,’ pictures become fairy-tale devices – imaginary inventions designed to inhabit mantelpieces, not minds. Comb through the countless Instagram accounts dedicated to the topic, and you’ll see this mundane routine play itself out. The faces are the same. The cultures remain uniform. The enchantment is counterfeit, and for photographers like Mio Monasch, the real magic is lost.
“It’s almost always a stunning model couple, performing the ultimate adventure… enveloped in this contrived dream. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but I wanted to find some diversity in the subject, and bring it back down to reality.” Encircled by pictorial stretches of moss and humidity, Mio knew that something more characteristic should occupy these glorious pastures. His subjects would have to reflect Olympic’s earthy authenticity, while simultaneously equaling the uniqueness of the surroundings. At first glance, this was a taxing assignment, but Mio was unyielding. When the opportunity eventually materialized, it came in the form of Harish – a former work associate of Indian origin.
Friends for a number of years, this sense of familiarity naturally favored a more genuine, unaffected approach – mitigating Mio’s concerns. Keen to celebrate his recent engagement to fiancé Sneha, Harish would stress the importance of traditional iconography as the fundamental centerpiece. Mio obliged, and a date was set. “Emphasizing the cultural particulars was definitely part of my goal. Harish is obsessed with Olympic. Like me, he loves the moodiness, the rain, the dark tones. Better yet, they’re an actual couple. They aren’t models, and they aren’t pretending. It’s completely real,” he underlines. “Introduce the Indian element, and you’ve got something really special. There was so much genuine excitement in the air. I loved being able to showcase something that not a lot of people are used to seeing. I was blown away by the detail, the beauty… I felt so honored to learn about their process, and help them get back in touch with their roots. It was all very intimate, and I felt completely involved.”
Whilst Harish donned a traditional sherwani, Sneha sported a customary lehenga. Floral ‘varmala’ garlands were exchanged, and elegant henna patterning was spread across skin. Allusions to the habitual ‘griha pravesh’ were also observed – a conventional practice involving the dousing of the wife-to-be’s feet in a red dye or ‘alta,’ prior to her ceremonial introduction into the groom’s home. Complementing Sneha’s dress, crimson petals would mimic the colorant, a striking substitute that bursts in frames of subdued, wintry indifference. A tremendous counterpoint of color produced an arresting visual feast.
“Her attire formed this beautiful contrast with the environment. It really popped. That was the final part of the puzzle,” Mio recalls. “Pairing it with these settings was incredible. Take one turn and you’ll see one of the craziest ranges, layers of endless mountain peaks. Take another and end up at the lake, layered with fog and evergreens. It’s so moist, and there’s this weird moss growing everywhere. Then you’ve got the vibrancy of these gorgeous garments, juxtaposed. That distinction really drew me in. I wanted to situate them in a space they felt connected to. It built their attachment, and when you’re photographing a couple, that’s integral.” Echoing the outlook of other portrait photographers we’ve interviewed, Mio draws attention to the importance of cultivating rapport, and choosing the right moment. “They’re fun, comfortable people. I obviously knew Harish beforehand, so we had something of an understanding. I always look for a trigger that’ll get a couple laughing. With these two, they’re massive fans of The Office. I can quote almost all of that show, so that certainly helped! When we were a little tired, I’d throw a line out, and that would get them going. Some people might consider that cheating, but the emotion was real, and it’s tethered to their relationship. You can’t command laughter. It has to be genuine.”
Using the GFX100S, Mio’s system proved a commendable companion. “At first, the thought of large format was a concern – I hadn’t done it before. But this kit felt recognizable. The general dials and components are parallel to what I’ve been dealing with for years, which put me at ease. But the viewfinder, the display, the HDR… those things blew me away. Being able to see where your focus is… that’s so important. The 100S made all the difference. You can’t just sit there and hold for a terribly long time, so you need speed. It happens and you’ve got to hit the moment. The 100S is fast enough to do that, but it also has perfect depth. The colors and tonalities…” he pauses for thought. “It may be a continuation of the Fujifilm tradition, but I think we’ve hit hyperdrive with this update.” When it came to lens selection, an assortment of glass suited Mio’s multifaceted approach. “Some couples will notice me less if I’m further away, and sometimes I’ll be too far removed, and they won’t take it as seriously,” he describes. “That’s why I had a slew of lenses in my bag. I needed that flexibility. I used GF45mmF2.8 R WR, GF63mmF2.8 R WR, and GF110mmF2 R LM WR. GF63mm was my principal choice. That was the bulk. I love its sincerity. It’s closest to how the human eye perceives the world.” When camera mimics cornea, photographs serve to imitate the closeness of the physical. The subsequent ‘realness’ of the image draws us in, and Mio’s initial objectives are visualized – true and forthright. “Because of the sensor size and the higher aperture, the fall-off looks like real life. It’s matchless. The combination of body and prime feels completely candid, and that naturalism really is something special.”
Specializing in branding work amongst the great outdoors, projects like these are outside Mio’s usual domain. With that said, he immersed himself in cliché, and with platitudes in mind, ended up fashioning something completely atypical. “With photography, we get bogged down in the confines of genre. We’re stoked to be living and working in our dream space, but we also plateau. I’m so grateful to be able to pursue my dreams, but there are definitely days where I feel the repetition. As artists, we get excited when we encounter a learning curve. It’s like drinking from a fire hose, and then the water pressure lessens. When you can find something new, inspiration is rekindled, and you can pass that along to whoever is viewing your images. It’s rare, but you can find it. All you need to do is look harder.”
A rallying call to all creatives, the courage to experiment typifies this project. Your sphere may be swamped with stereotypes, but take a step back. There’s always potential beyond the frame.