Marie-Claire Montanari: Reflections

Looking back at the life and work of Marie-Claire Montanari.  A photographer whose images represented reality,  she worked with a triptych of elements through the use of shadows, light and reflections.

Photo of Marie-Claire Montanari
Marie-Claire Montanari

Whether her chosen subject was street scenes, poignant mannequins, boats or the female form, they are all depicted in an authentic way.

Thomas Weski’s statement on photography perfectly fits Marie-Claire’s style, “At the moment, photography is in a phase of change in which an altered conception of the documentary factor is emerging. It is not so much a matter of the portrayal or representation of reality, but rather of an artistically well-grounded idea of the world.”

Born in Paris France, Marie-Claire came to New York in the late 1960’s to work at the United Nations. Having had no interest in photography prior to coming to “the city”, she began to see her surroundings through the eye of a camera, and by 1973, she began to study photography and take her craft seriously.

She took photography workshops with Harold Feinstein, master printing with George Tice, and lighting with Phillip Halsman. She then became a student and friend of Lisette Model who stated, “The camera is an instrument of detection.

© Marie-Claire Montanari. All rights reserved.

We photograph not only what we know, but also what we don’t know.” All of her instructors helped to spark her imagination, inspire her and keep her interest in and dedication to photography alive.

Marie-Claire’s professional, commission based photography began in 1985 with portraits of women and has since gone forward to include studies of the streets of New York, particularly of her Greenwich Village neighborhood, the female form, the antique furniture center, and Wave Hill, the internationally known botanical gardens located in the Bronx.

Reflections of reality, scenes within the seen, were to become one of her passions.From her Greenwich Village window she noticed what most would pass by without even a second glance–a mannequin in a store window not only dressed in the fashion of the day, but dressed in and surrounded by the windows reflected streets and buildings.

The mannequin, the light and the life of the city became one.

Black and white reflection & mannequin photo taken in Greenwich Village, New York by Marie-Claire Montanari
© Marie-Claire Montanari. All rights reserved.

Marie-Claire chose mannequins that look alive – poised to perfection. She captured graceful flowing dresses of times gone by. Although the mannequins are motionless, the artist chooses an ethereal moment in time. Today, new mannequins are built faceless and unreal.

Marie-Claire’s mannequins with realistic faces and figures, combined with street scenes reflected in shop windows, seem to be on the dividing line between the real and the unreal.

Recently, Marie-Claire had a show at “Art Inside Piola”, which showcases unique artists each month. It is a fun place to sip wine and view distinctive art, such as Marie-Claire’s series of “Women Reflecting New York City.”

One of her featured mannequins in this collection is a woman wearing a black hat, or maybe I should say, “She is wearing a building!” This image was captured during a distinct moment where reflections and light blended to create such an anomaly.

The mannequin series seemed to take on a life of its own—New York style life. One looks innocent, vulnerable and yet alluring against Union Square traffic, while another merges with the reflected image of the Sherry Netherlands Hotel to create a nostalgic image of 1980’s New York chic.

Others appear to be just modeling their fashions in front of a city backdrop—photographers, get your cameras ready. Marie-Claire has skillfully created images that let the viewer’s imagination form their own story.

Black and white reflection & mannequin photo taken in Greenwich Village, New York by Marie-Claire Montanari
© Marie-Claire Montanari. All rights reserved.
Black and white reflection & mannequin photo taken in Greenwich Village, New York by Marie-Claire Montanari
© Marie-Claire Montanari. All rights reserved.
Black and white reflection & mannequin photo taken in Greenwich Village, New York by Marie-Claire Montanari
© Marie-Claire Montanari. All rights reserved.

And there are many ways for a photographer to reflect on and capture reflective images of the life within a city. “The street is a particularly interesting environment for a photographer. You don’t know what to expect, but something is always happening and the element of surprise is exciting!”

And Marie-Claire just seemed to be at the right place, at the right time, in order to capture the perfect subjects and light.

Black and white photo called "African American Man with Black Hat" taken in New York by Marie-Claire Montanari
African American Man with Black Hat

Some of her favorite reflective scenes include the image, “African American Man with Black Hat.” She stated, “This is a strong and simple image of a man looking in a store window, his face reflected in the glass against a dark background that suggests night in the city — although the photograph was actually taken in daylight.”

Another scene, “New York Village Bookstore”, is an image of a second-hand bookstore window. “This was taken when the East Village was a bibliophile’s Mecca,” she said. “It seemed to suggest an urban landscape.”

And “Reflection on Trunk of Car” is a slightly surreal image of the famous literary hangout, the Algonquin Hotel.

Black and white photo called "New York Village Bookstore" taken in New York by Marie-Claire Montanari
© Marie-Claire Montanari. All rights reserved.

Black and white photo called "Reflection on Trunk of Car" taken in New York by Marie-Claire Montanari
© Marie-Claire Montanari. All rights reserved.

Marie Claire’s photographs all focus on form revealed by light and shadow against backgrounds chosen to clarify and enhance the subject.

Although her first love is using photo lab techniques to work with the light, shade, and grey tones of black and white photography, she had expanded her photographic endeavors to include color photography.

While traveling on the Mediterranean, East of Toulon, she became fascinated with some interesting boats docked in a small French fishing port. She found it to be a perfect place to capture a feeling of days gone by.

Up to that moment, she had never taken pictures in color, “I suddenly felt like it. The combination of the intensity of the colors in the sky, the sea and the fishing boats urged me to take on color.” She is adept at capturing ripples of ropes and cords and the craggy boats reflecting off the water. She tried several different angles until she found something that was unique to her.

Color reflection photo of sail boats taken in French fishing port by Marie-Claire Montanari
© Marie-Claire Montanari. All rights reserved.

Color photo of boats photo taken in French fishing port by Marie-Claire Montanari
© Marie-Claire Montanari. All rights reserved.

Marie-Claire passed away in 2015

Her work resides in the permanent collections of Bibliotheque Nationale de Paris; Aeroports de Paris; Santa Barbara Museum of Art; and Credit Suisse.

It has been showcased in several galleries and exhibitions, including Gallagher’s Art & Fashion Gallery (New York); The Schacknow Museum of Fine Arts (Plantation, Florida); Gallagher’s Art & Fashion Gallery (New York); La Chambre Claire (Paris); Neikrug Photographica (New York); Silver Image Gallery (Seattle, WA); New York University, La Maison Francaise (New York); Galerie Regine Lussan (Paris); and The Arsenal Gallery in Central Park (New York).

by Lauren Keyson

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