When meeting someone new for the first time the characteristics of a life well lived seem to jump out at us. There’s little nuggets of information, stories, and experiences that roll out in conversation with depth and perspective. Their personalities yield an open understanding married with a dynamic perspective that makes conversation actually, well, stimulating and enjoyable.

Chris Mongeau is this. A wise, well traveled, unpretentious creative. The best kind. Zig-zagging across the United States more times than he can count. Just a touch shy of hitting 30 different countries, Chris has lived a life true to himself, forging a path many of us dream about, the one where you get paid to travel doing something you love. His story here…

Photo Courtesy: Chris Mongeau

Photo Courtesy: Chris Mongeau

Based out of Providence, Rhode Island. Born there too?
Yes! I was actually born in a city over called Pawtucket, but I have lived in Providence for the last 7 years while not on the road. It’s an amazing little city full of life and culture. I highly recommend visiting to anyone who has not.

I gotta check it out. How’d your relationship with photography start?
I became interested in photography first while traveling with my family. I used to bring disposal cameras with me on trips to Florida and other places we went each year. I didn’t know anything about photography and I don’t think I expressed any real interest in it until high school, but I always used to wait for people to get out of the frame before taking the picture.

I still have albums from trips to Disney World and the Caribbean, it’s funny because there are almost no photos of anyone in my family and I think that’s probably a sign that I am very much a landscape photographer at heart.

As I grew older, I began taking photos of bands in the music scene around Providence. I was in a band for a little while and quickly realized I enjoyed photographing bands more than actually being on stage. In high school, I bought my first digital SLR and continued to play around with film cameras. I used to go to shows without knowing any of the bands that were playing. There was a venue here in Providence that has since been torn down called the Living Room that was good for at least 5 shows a week. I started doing this when I was 15 and continued shooting bands, which eventually led to me touring with a handful across the U.S. and the U.K.

Photo Courtesy: Chris Mongeau

Photo Courtesy: Chris Mongeau

My aesthetic has evolved over the years, but I definitely attribute my original love for photography to the feeling of wanting to capture those moments on the road. Even when I’m traveling alone, I think that idea and feeling still exists within my work.

I imagine you draw a lot of inspiration from cross-country travel being a fan of landscape photography, no?
When I started taking photography seriously, the first thing I wanted to do was get on the road with a band. After touring with bands almost every year since I was 17, I have grown apart from that aspect of photography and being on the road. I still am enticed when a band asks me to come on tour with them to shoot, and sometimes I still do, but I like the freedom of traveling alone, mainly because I will follow a road or anything I feel is worth photographing for hours just to see where it might take me.

Photo Courtesy: Chris Mongeau

Photo Courtesy: Chris Mongeau

My literary background is heavily Beat-oriented and writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg are heroes to me. There is something profound about crossing the U.S. specifically that I have spent a lot of time thinking and writing about. Watching the landscape go by and experiencing the varying landscape across the country is one aspect of what I love about cross-country travel, but I also think I just love being in between places. There’s a big sense of freedom in being in transit, like when you’re in an airport or on a train. The U.S. was also built for road tripping, and the highways and scenic byways across this country are truly worth experiencing.

Incredible. I was just in San Francisco recently checking out some of Kerouac & Ginsberg’s favorite haunts. One of my favorite questions of Kerouac’s – “I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future.” I remember reading that on a train ride to Montauk, felt incredibly fitting as I entertained the idea of moving to Texas & California…

I love that quote! Being from the east coast (not far from Kerouac’s Lowell) I also feel that east of my youth / west of my future sentiment. There are so many, but I think one of my favorite Kerouac quotes that has always been a bit of a background mantra for me is

“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”

Couldn’t agree more.

So you’ve been on the road with bands since 2008? Everything about this is great, live music, creative energy, road trips and proper documentation. I love it. How’s it been? Favorite moments? Least favorite thing about it all?

Photo Courtesy: Chris Mongeau

Photo Courtesy: Chris Mongeau

It’s been incredible. I think being able to support yourself off of your skill or trade is something that is really empowering and it also has made me realize how thankful I am that I can honestly say I love what I do. A lot of people hate their jobs. I’ve been there. I’ve worked in grocery stores, restaurants and offices doing work I hate. When something is a means to an end, I think that is okay, but if you find yourself hating your routine, you better act quick if you don’t want to wake up one day feeling a lot older with nothing to show for those years.

Being on the road, to me, feels more like home than anything else. I’ve never really known why that is, I just love traveling and being in a new place every day. There are too many favorites to count, but some of the best times I’ve had on tour were honestly inside the van with my friends, driving through the night, waking up at a gas station in the middle of the desert at 4AM, or just hanging out inside venues after a show. I love the downtime between shows, driving sometimes 15+ hours a day and watching the miles fly by.

As far as a least favorite aspect, I am a bit of a homebody which might seem contradictory but I love my apartment and the space I’ve created at home with my fiancee in Providence. It’s an ideal environment for me to write, read and create work in, so sometimes I do miss that. Probably the biggest thing that sucks about being on the road is waking up somewhere where good coffee is not easily accessible. That, for me, is a morning-wrecker. I am a big morning person, I don’t sleep a whole lot, but I need my damn coffee when I wake up. There’s nothing worse than waking up at a hotel on the side of the highway with terrible coffee that looks like mud.

Photo Courtesy: Chris Mongeau

Photo Courtesy: Chris Mongeau

Well, no more bad coffee. That’s a rule. So where have all of your travels taken you? Your collection is incredible – how long has it taken you to build it?
Thank you! I have been across the U.S. more times than I can remember and have managed to hit every state in the lower 48. Outside the U.S., I’ve been through or visited Canada, Mexico, England, Scotland, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Iceland and some islands in the Caribbean. It’s definitely a lifelong pursuit, I’m hoping to hit 30 countries before I turn 30. Up next is Chile and Argentina in November with my fiancee!

What’s the best community for proper photographers to share photos?
That’s a great question! The ideal community is one where you are surrounded by people who inspire you and can provide support as well as feedback on your work. In terms of an online community, I think that Instagram is a great place to be active and participate in the online photo community. I would hesitate in saying that it is the best community, because I think real life interaction is important and I also believe a printed photograph is far different from viewing an image on a screen.

I am fortunate enough to live in a city where I have a bunch of friends who are photographers, but that’s not the case for everyone, which is why I think Instagram is awesome. It really gives a voice to people from literally everywhere and anywhere to share their own perspective on the world through their work.

Photo Courtesy: Chris Mongeau

Photo Courtesy: Chris Mongeau

Any favorite assignment or project?
One of my favorite projects I’ve worked on has been putting together a zine from a road trip I did across the U.S. with 4 friends and my fiancee in 2014. We spent a month traveling through a bunch of national parks and down the west coast. The zine actually is not finished yet, but it was an awesome collaboration of photos, writing, poetry, illustration and design work between the 6 of us. I spent a few weekends with my friend Matt (who was a part of the trip) last winter at our apartment working for hours designing the zine. Collaborating and working on the zine itself has been really fun and because we all live very far apart (some in D.C., some in Portland), the time we’ve been able to actually work on it has been spaced out, which is good for the creative process I think. That time has allowed it to evolve and turn into something that I think is really awesome. Eventually, we’ll get around to printing it so it will exist beyond our computers.

Can’t let ya get away without sharing a bit about your belief here: “I believe in following the things you’re drawn to and not settling for a life of comfort or stability, but seeking out that which challenges you everyday.”
I think it’s important to evaluate your life every now and then and ask yourself if what you’re doing today is contributing to a lifestyle you believe in. I can’t say what’s right for everyone, nor would I want to. I’m not big on goals or endpoints, mainly because my life changes all of the time. The bottom line in life is that it’s short as hell, and it can be really easy to settle for something that’s comfortable or less challenging.

And lastly, any words of advice for new photographers and adventure seekers?
Keep doing what you love every day! Worthwhile success does not come overnight, it’s never that easy. And I don’t mean success as in money or notoriety. That all comes and goes. What matters most is that you’re pushing yourself every day to do the work you love and continue to better yourself as an artist. If you’re into shooting street photography, get out there every day and shoot for a few hours. If you want to travel, get creative and find ways to make travel more than a hobby and turn it into your lifestyle.

To learn more & stay connected with Chris – Website: Christopher Mongeau Photography Instagram: @ChristopherMongeau

Photo Courtesy: Chris Mongeau

Photo Courtesy: Chris Mongeau

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