Noé Montes

Via Stephen Serrato we stumbled upon the beautiful work of Noé Montes. Noé works and lives in Los Angeles within his work you can see the diversity of this gigantic city.
Who are you and what do you do for living?

My name is Noé Montes and I am a photographer.

For how long have you been photographing and why did you become obsessed (or interested) with photography?

I have been photographing for almost twenty years. Most of that time I only worked on personal projects but in the last seven years I have been pursuing it full time. I started in photography by taking evening classes at a community college after work when I lived in Arizona. I immediately realized that photography was the best way for me to understand the world and express my ideas about it.

Describe your photographic style? How did you develop your style?

I take honest photographs about people in the world and how they strive to move forward. Most of my photos have an interesting use of color and careful composition. I develop my style by shooting a lot. I have a list of ideas that keeps growing and I try to shoot as many of them as I can. This is an ongoing process so I trust that my work will keep evolving. I worry about about the fact that I won’t be able to work out all my ideas in this lifetime.

What inspires you and keeps you keen (sharp) on what you do?

Many things inspire me. I am always looking at new photography online, there is a lot of interesting work being made and some of it actually has some weight to it. I am also inspired by authors, Roberto Bolaño is someone I will probably always read and reread. Lately I have been reading all of George Saunders work. The author I have been reading the longest is Jorge Luis Borges. The thing that inspires me the most though, is people and the things that they do to better themselves and the world.

How do you find balance between commercial (so you can pay the bills) and your personal work?

I don’t differentiate between the two. One thing informs the other and a lot of times a commercial job will grow out of a personal project and vice/versa. It is one constantly evolving amorphous thing. Mostly, I feel lucky to be paying bills by making pictures.

Some fresh tuna.


What project are you most proud of?

I am always most excited and proud of whatever project I am currently working on. A very memorable one is shooting the city of Los Angeles from an LAPD helicopter over a couple of days.

Do you have any (photography) rolemodels? Capra, Walker Evans, Cartier-Bresson, Joel Sternfeld, etc.

Avedon – Best portrait photographer ever. Roe Ethridge – I have been following his work for a long time and he is always interesting and intelligent. Jason Nocito – He sees something in everything. Gerhard Richter – I like to do in photography what Gerhard Richter has done in painting.

Jersey Strong

Jersey Strong

You also do workshops, can you tell us something about that?

I have been working with non-profits in Los Angeles for many years. Youth Speak Collective in Pacoima and Youthbuild in Venice are both doing great work with youth in areas of the cities that don’t have a lot of resources to keep young people in school and away from drugs and violence. I also work with various other groups in the city. Sometimes we do shoots or I will come in and talk about what it is like working as a photographer. The most important thing is for them to see someone making a living doing something they love.

Youth Speak Collective is a youth-driven organization founded on the idea that all young people can succeed if provided with the right opportunities. We follow a “for youth, by youth” philosophy in which young people are empowered to help design and implement our programs.

Do you feel you have a social responsibility by doing such workshops?

Absolutely. The governmental and economic system in the U.S. is so convoluted, ineffective and unbalanced that we have to do all we can to help each other.

Los Angeles has everything, good and bad. It is a strange place. It feeds me and breaks my heart every day.
— Noé Montes
What cameras do you use? Classic Leica / Hasselblad or high end stuff?

I use a Canon 5D Mark II with a 24-105 L Series lens for almost everything. I don’t nerd out about equipment. I think you can do a lot with whatever you have. More and more I am doing a lot of creative work in post. As long as I have a chunk of good clean data to shape I can do a lot with it.

Are you also shooting moving images / film?

I am starting to do this for a couple of reasons. One is that it is fairly easy to do with the equipment that I have and the other is that it seems like a great way to tell stories. The few times I have tried it have made me realize that doing it well is an enormous amount of work, so I will work on it slowly over time. I am excited about it though.

What have you been working on recently? Any future plans?
  • A series of photos of fake flowers.
  • A project about landscapers, day laborers.
  • A collaboration with writer Richard Villegas about Los Angeles.
  • A series of photos of items purchased at 99 Cent stores.
  • El Aleph Books‘ setting up an online store to sell self-published books and prints, my own and other artists, collaborations etc.


Cover photo by Amanda Lopez