They’re not officially sister cites, but Montauk, N.Y. and Wellfleet, Mass. share enough geographical and cultural similarities that there’s a strong case for why they should be. And it’s clearer now more than ever when seen through the lenses of two photographers, Grant Monahan and Cole Barash.
Together, these shooters share a common love of photography and an uncommon eye for representing their respective set of circumstances, scenery and friendships; all of which have not only made an impact on them, but made for something extraordinary.
Introducing the photo series Tangible Grounds, artistically curated by Bjorn Iooss, who has an appreciation for simplicity, power and emotion behind an image. The collection features Monahan and Barash’s perspectives on their hometowns in a series of photos shot over the past six years, each with it’s own reflective viewpoint.
Here’s a look into both the show itself, as well as the men behind the lenses who share a common bond with the sea, a love of good beer and an overlying passion. Through each photograph, we not only see their the appreciation of a well-told story; we see a captured moment from similar, yet very different, communities. While through each question in the interview, we get to see a little of who Monahan and Barash are, and what it is about these two fellas that makes their artistic personalities and work similar, yet individually unique.
Tangible Grounds: Why name it that?
GM: When Cole and I were talking about the show and names, we both were kind of saying that both Montauk and Wellfleet both are kind of humbling places. They ground you and keep you kind of mellowed out and they sort of grab you and like pull you in. And we were talkin’ you know and it kind of had a ring to it too — Tangible Grounds. It was just two words that kept getting brought up, so we sort of put it together and there you go, ya got a title.
CB: Both places Wellfeet, Mass. and Montauk, N.Y. are very grounding, humbling places. Those are two of the words that came to mind very quickly when Grant and I were forming the concept for this show. The tangible part seemed to make sense as they are physical places you can get your hands dirty, and grip the actual elements of what makes these places what they are.
What’s your relationship with Grant/Cole?
GM: I met Cole in Brooklyn through a mutual friend and it just so happened, I was flying to Hawaii in like six days and that he was flying to the same spot the day before me. He was going to shoot a photo series with John John (Florence) and I ran into him a bunch on the North Shore. We got to surf together and stuff, and then we kind of just stayed in touch. We’ve been in the same circle since and I really looked up to his work, and really just liked his work. So, I always kind of showed up to his shows and said what up and now we’re doing on together.
CB: Met Grant on Myspace in ’02. Been homies ever since he put me in on his top 8.
If you were lined up for the best photo you have ever taken, ever, what do you choose?
Film or your 5D?
GM: If it’s really like the best shot I could ever get, I would probably shoot it on the 5D because then I could mess with it, and know it would be perfect. But in reality I would have both with me and I would shoot both.
Montauk vs. Wellfleet? Have you been there?
GM: Wellfleet? Never been. But from what Cole has to say about it, it seems like quite the spot.
CB: I’ve actually only spent a bit of time last winter and spring in Montuak. Jesse, Grant and Austin dialed me in pretty nicely to a few good sessions, and then I came back last summer for a ‘Whaleboner’ event to hang. Place reminds me so much of home between the landscapes (sand dunes, scrub pines, etc) and the locals.
Differences or Similarities — what sticks out more?
GM: To me it was the similarities. It blew my mind! Like had never seen Cole’s photos of Wellfleet, and he sent the whole batch over and I was like laughing because there were shots I thought were Montauk. Like one that looks like it’s Poles and I still like think it is. It’s wild. But then there are obviously differences ya know? It’s the north end of Cape Cod.
CB: The locals — they’re either all fisherman or construction and really don’t give a sh*t about who you are, or where you have been or where you’re from. They don’t care how many followers you have, what you did on a Friday night after the “club,” or what system you got put in your dumb-ass whip. They also don’t care what brand your polo shirt is, what deal you got on your boat shoes or the new top of the line wetty and board you got.
Some other similarities that Cole mentioned he noticed:
- Show respect, get respect.
- Don’t flaunt sh*t — keep it humble.
- Don’t geo-tag or hash-out the spot — or you Xed.
- Family and friends > money and houses.
- Early to bed, early to rise. Work hard and earn a living, no trustafarians allowed.
- Lend a hand.
Why photography, over other things you’re passionate about? I heard you’ve got some other tricks up your sleeve.
GM: I don’t know, it’s like something I love to do. Kind of got into it through skating in South Carolina and it sort of just stuck with me. I guess it’s my hobby.
Interruptions from the Ditch Witch. “Hey Grant, Sorry are there any tofu pups in here?” Grant: “Yea uh, they’re in where the Bleu Cheese dressings are.”
CB: I’ve always been making photos. Well since I was like a grom maybe… 12? The main thing that keeps me sane is the ocean. I have always kept surfing separate from work (shooting surfing), and it’s my true creative reset button. The ocean in general — fishing, surfing, observing, etc. is what is engraved in me.
Grant — I know your passion for taking photos spanned from shooting skateboarding, talk about that a little bit and how you eventually got into the portraiture and a more story telling side of photography from your days in South Carolina, and how that happened.
GM: This whole skate thing started because I was getting taken to these spots in South Carolina that were just so psycho, that I would never be able to skate. The guys were so good and the scene was so crazy, and I started shooting that. Then I realized that, you know after showing all those photos to people that I respected, they were like, “Why aren’t you shooting photos of these people… not skating?” And then I was like, “Oh shit,” and I realized there are these like 40 something year-old men with like gnarly beards that were crushing Busch cans all day. It made for the best photos so, I kind of got into trying to capture a little bit more of that scene. But, it was kind of ‘too little too late,’ as it was the end of my run in South Carolina when it hit me, so it just carried that over to here. I’m trying to capture you know like the vibes and people, well not vibes, but I don’t know… the way people are through photographs. I really like that.
Empowering Montauk/Wellfleet or embodying that feel of Montauk/Wellfleet?
GM: This series is 100% embodying. That was my whole goal when shooting all this stuff. I was trying to show Montauk for everything — the people, the culture, the landscapes, the loneliness, crowdedness, like all the different aspects of life we go through here. And I just saw so many images of Montauk that I do like, but don’t really think they really, truly embody what the place is, and I wanted to try and do that with this work.
CB: I’d say embody. I am not a true “Fleetian.” I’m a “wash ashore,” so I technically don’t have the true strings to pull, which I acknowledge it in full. I do, however, have full respect for that place and forever will, as well as the people that make it what it is. I most likely will die there.
For fun or for funds?
GM: Always fun first, and the funds are a bonus. You know if someone likes your work and they want to buy it that’s great, but I’m not… I don’t know. It is something I want to make a career and a passion in life, but it’s not my soul means. You know? I do the Ditch Witch so I can pursue photography from a more fun perspective, and I think that makes your work a little better.
CB: Fun. All I care about is making enough cash to get by, go get tubes and go make more personal bodies of work. The people that are after strictly funds in life are fake and belong on Wall Street. Life is short — you got to do what you love, appreciate where you are and who you’re with, and have a good fuckin’ time doing it.
Thre pet peeves when taking a photo — ready? Go!
- Straight horizons, even though there is a photo in the show with a crooked horizon.
- I’m real weird with straight lines. I want all the lines to be straight.
- Overdoing photoshop or saturating. Over-editing and I guess trying too hard. Just let things happen.
- Center framed images.
- ‘Instagram pro-photographers’
- Someone telling me how to take it.
How many shows on the East End have you done?
GM: With group shows, four or five, but solo stuff — I guess this is kind of solo even though it’s with Cole — this would be my third. View from the Window and Terimah Kasih were the first two.
CB: This will be the first one — I’m hyped! Well, besides the little DIY one last summer, backyard style, which was pretty fun.
What can we expect from this one?
GM: I guess this one has a theme too, even though there was no concept behind it. It was random rolls of film over time, but the theme is just two people from similar walks of life, but from different towns. You know showing how they perceive their hometowns and places they are passionate about.
CB: Hopefully a body of work that is sequenced to leave an impression on people about where they are from or where they spend time visiting. I’d be psyched if it evoked some emotions or self realizations.
Blown out or too dark?
GM: Depends. Depends on what your shooting. Sometimes blown out is nice and kind of back lit with the face exposed right, sometimes too dark is nice. You never know until you shoot it.
CB: Too dark. With digital there is so much blown out sh*t, but I don’t even think people realize it. With printing in the dark room you have such a huge range of tonality from blacks to highlights and digital is pretty bad. I generally shoot more dark and moody I think, so I am maybe a little biased.
Planned or candid?
GM: Both. There’s a time and place for both.
CB: Both. Candid or natural is nice. However identifying and giving slight direction can be nice as well.
Up close or from a far?
GM: Beautiful medium.
CB: From a far.
Ketchup or Mustard?
GM: I hate Ketchup. Like I don’t even like putting ketchup on someone else’s hotdog. So, mustard.
CB: Mustard. Honey.
Color or B&W?
GM: Again depends, I think I like color recently.
CB: Used to be B&W. These days it could be color. I’ve been sequencing a new book that is all color, so I’m in the color mind set right now.
When the wave breaks here…
GM: Be inside, getting barreled.
CB: Go down the beach and give the boyz some space.
GM: No one listens to Turtle.
CB: Favorite New England quote — ‘Sup prick.’
GM: I don’t know. There’s so many I like. I guess Walter Iooss is definitely up there. Arto Saari I really like. Um… Cole Barash, Bjorn Iooss, I don’t know that’s too many. I like a lot of photogs.
CB: I’ve been pretty into Vivianne Sassen lately and Wolfgang Tilmans.
Listicles or long story?
GM: I like very well-told, long stories you gotta dive into. You got to have some detail and a thought-out storyline.
CB: I like details.
Shooting the sh*t with these too legends has been a pleasure and we are glad you could join the fun. To check out Tangible Grounds for yourself in its entirety, head over to Whalebone Creative at 65 Tuthill Road or the Ditch Witch in Montauk to pick up your own limited edition Tangible Grounds Photo Zine. Ask Grant or Jesse for the goods, they’ll know what you’re talking about. Ciao.