For the past three years, photographer Marina Mónaco has documented youth culture on film for her ongoing project, Kids
Buenos Aires was all Marina Mónaco had ever known, until she moved halfway across the world to Stuttgart two years ago. She could have never anticipated how the move was going to reinvent her as a photographer — her pictures never remained grounded after that.
She studied film in Stuttgart, then lived in Italy for six months – “super randomly”, she says – and is now based in Berlin. “Random” is a word that comes up a lot with Mónaco, as she talks about both her life and creative decisions. She clings to the idea of spontaneity.
As one of the few young photographers in Buenos Aires, Mónaco was soon contacted by various brands to work in fashion photography. “But I felt like it was not my vibe,” she tells Dazed. “I like it if the team is nice, but it’s quite superficial to me.” Now, Mónaco has been in the industry for eight years and continues to work on editorial and commercial shoots, but it’s in the pictures she randomly snaps of her friends rolling cigarettes or dangling their feet from her bed that she truly finds her voice.
She started her personal project Kids after her big move to Europe, and travelled to major cities of the continent to document youth culture. She was looking for something real: raw and intimate moments which, in pictures, immortalise youth.
Working across numerous formats, from digital and analogue to VHS, Mónaco remains most comfortable shooting young people on film. “They don’t get to see the picture in the moment,” she explains. “Nowadays, of course, you take a picture with a phone, then you look at it yourself and you're like, ‘mh, I don’t know,’ and I think that kills the atmosphere.”
Someday soon, Mónaco hopes to have her own exhibition to give each photograph its own space on a wall, instead of clumping them all together in an Instagram post. She hopes to draw people in to experience her work in the flesh, and not just through a screen. Here, we chat to Mónaco about ‘Kids’, friendship, and, most importantly, love.
How did moving to Europe impact your photography?
Marina Mónaco: It’s difficult to explain for sure. With Berlin in particular, I felt a deep connection there. When I visited this city for the first time, I was only 21. The city has this nostalgic air that you can just breathe in. It's a city that likes to remember all the time and works around memories.
I think the nostalgia that the city makes me feel is the basis of my pictures right now. After this first trip, my pictures changed completely. I wanted to go deeper into this feeling. Berlin is a city that stimulates you all the time, I always feel like I am in a movie. Also, as an artist, I think it’s very important to explore what it’s like to be unknown. To be in a place where nobody knows you or you don't know the language.
Could you give us a little background on your ‘Kids’ project, and what the experience of travelling around Europe has been like?
Marina Mónaco: The Kids project started as a way to manifest and explore this feeling of nostalgia I talked about before. Back then, I used to do a lot of fashion photography and I kinda felt empty. I felt it was too forced for me.
This is how I began to photograph real relationships, people wearing their own clothes in their own spaces, people who had never modelled before — and this was life-changing. The experience of being alone in Europe and exploring foreign universes was just mind-blowing. The different styles people had, the way they expressed themselves… I realised that the ways of expressions were so different here.
What do you love about photographing young people?
Marina Mónaco: Youth culture is just so interesting to me in many ways. The feeling of freedom and of being lost at the same time. I like to know that I’m the person who is gonna document a moment that, if it weren’t for me, would just slip away. The people in my pictures — it’s the golden time of their life.
I love how they just trust me and open up — they show me their rooms, they show me who they are, their friends, maybe they kiss in front of me, and I capture that split-second moment. It’s like I don’t exist. There was this group of kids from Stuttgart, and at first they were like, “what the fuck? Who is this girl?” They didn’t understand. I told them, “Can you just run?” They did, and I just followed. They were so relaxed afterwards.
You photograph your friends a lot, too. Are you inspired by them?
Marina Mónaco: Well, photographing my friends is my number one therapy. I don’t ask for a picture anymore, I just do it. It’s also a different experience because there’s so much love behind it. This is more about how I tell the story of my own life and recreate glimpses of what the vibes were back then.
“Is there anything better than young love? [...] This feeling just happens one or two times when you are young, super deeply, then it’ll go away and maybe you are too old or too mature to enjoy it anymore” — Marina Mónaco
The kids in your series make being young and in love look so easy. How important is it for you to immortalise young love?
Marina Mónaco: Well, is there anything better than young love? The feelings of ‘the first time’… I explored this feeling during my first relationship when I started documenting my boyfriend at the time, and it was just different from with my friends. This feeling just happens one or two times when you are young, super deeply, then it’ll go away and maybe you are too old or too mature to enjoy it anymore. So I think love mixed with youth is very unique. For example, all the couples in this series — they’ve all broken up now. So, it’s not easy. It’s fragile, but I am happy that, at least, I captured good moments.
Back then, I was so heartbroken, in a super toxic relationship, and then I saw that there are other kinds of love. Some couples are more passionate, some are shy. There was this scene where the girl was cutting her boyfriend’s hair and then he entered the shower while she rolled a cigarette. And then she joined him, and I was just taking pictures of them. It was so intimate. It's just very crazy if I think about it. It’s like they don’t know me and it just happens, and I think photography creates that bond in that time that is otherwise impossible.
Could you tell us a little bit about your relationship to nostalgia? Do you find that all photographs are nostalgic, in a way?
Marina Mónaco: I can never avoid the thought “this is something that will never happen again” every time I look at a photograph. Makes me a bit sad. I’m obsessed with “feeling nostalgic for lives I never lived.” Not so long ago, I realised I was looking for this feeling everywhere. Not only in my pictures but in music, movies, and in my daily life. I’m not a person who lives in the present too much and I want to transmit this into my photos. The experience of nostalgia is something the observer creates into their own mind, isn’t it? I don’t know.
Your photographs vibrate with colour and life, how did you come to curate this cinematic look?
Marina Mónaco: I’m a person who likes to romanticise life in general. My reality — I like to transform it. I do it with my pictures and it’s something that people criticise me for: “yeah, it’s youth culture, but it’s actually very romanticised as well, it’s like this dreamy perfect love scene, you know?” It’s actually not, of course, because I transform it. But I do it spontaneously. I studied cinematography and I think movies played a big role in my inspiration. Life is just better if you are listening to your favourite song, if it’s blue hour outside and there’s wind moving your hair.
‘Kids’ has been an ongoing project for the past three years. Do you ever see it come to an end?
Marina Mónaco: I think the project right now still has a long way to go, until I feel like I'm too old to mix in with the youth culture myself. Because the core of the project is this thing I feel part of. So I think the project will stay alive as long as I still feel young inside. And I know that these photographs will gain more value in the future. I hope to be a photographer that inspires the nostalgia of a new generation.