Brighter Days
Dan Monakil Has A Way With Color

An editor friend who helps produce an annual calendar for a photography company has a stock response for photographers who ask for guidelines about what kind of photos to submit. "Send in pictures that people will want to look at for a month," he says.

Viewing Dan Monakil's photographs, it occurred to us that he takes precisely those kinds of photos--graceful compositions, bright with color, that immediately catch the eye; familiar, they nevertheless prompt repeated viewing.

It's no accident--it hardly ever is when you see a photograph that keeps inviting you back. "I like drama in my photos," Monakil says. "I like to attract people with color."

You might say that Monakil got started in photography twice. The first time was in '88, when the demands of work left little time for serious study. Then, in '93, company cutbacks turned him from a manager into a technician, and, partially to cushion the shock of the job shift, he turned to photography--with a passion. The job situation hasn't changed since then--he's still a database administrator--but photography has rewarded him well beyond his initial expectations: he's taken prizes in numerous contests and competitions; his photos have been exhibited and featured on calendars; he's been profiled in two major photography magazines; and is currently working on proposals for a series of articles for a third national publication.

Monakil is very big on contests--they are at once a challenge and a proving ground. It's not so much the rewards, although they are nice, but the learning: "I want to know what people think of my pictures; I want to know what they see. I can learn from a good critique."

Monakil takes careful note of the winners--"I see what's going on, and it's a challenge to try to create what will win."

Contests also provide direction. Their themes and ideas give him focus; then the challenge is to capture the theme in a different way. He'll deliberately think of the ways people might interpret the theme, and then he'll go off in another direction. "I try to add a lot of creativity to it, to represent the idea differently. I think about what most people would send in, then I do the opposite within the theme. When people say the theme is color, I'm not going to do a sunset."

His first step is to sketch--to literally make a little drawing of the image. "I ask myself, what do I want to see? What would I like to do with this theme if I could do anything I wanted? I make a sketch, then try to think of where I might have seen this place and these items...or where could I see them? If there is no place, I'll try to invent the image, which is why I do slide sandwiches. If I can't find the site, I make it from two images."

With color saturation and intensity so important to his work, his film choice is critical. "I use only Velvia, for its saturated color. It's 50 speed, but I rate it at 40 to give it a little extra punch, and I process it normally." Monakil doesn't stop with the slides, however. Exhibiting and selling prints are part of the process for him, and so he prints from his slides on the glossiest paper he can find--Fuji's high gloss reversal.

Almost everything he shoots --with his Nikon N90 or Bron-ica ETR--is with the aid of a tripod. "You're just not going to get the results you want without one," he says.

Despite his success with contests--he's won over a dozen in less than half as many years--he'll soon stop, or at least cut down, on his entries. "I'm going to focus on marketing my work and getting assignments," he says. Becoming a full-time professional photographer is a dream, but it's one that might come true: his work is selling in galleries and to collectors. "People are buying 20x24s for $300 or $400. I never thought I'd be able to sell them for that."

But he shouldn't be surprised. The thing is, people like to look at Dan Monakil's photographs.