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  • PJ Monte shares anecdotes on his photos. Click right on the Gallery to view them.
  • “My lil’ brother Gucci Goldberg doing some sidewalk bowling with a bowling ball that who knows where it came from.”
  • “Symmetry and asymmetry—another slice of New York getting ‘refurbished’ so some new kooks can move in.”
  • “I’m pretty sure my friend Gbaby actually snapped this picture off my camera while we were all out one blurry night.”
  • “Uncle Paulie being Uncle Paulie at his finest.”
  • “This was the morning after in a dingy hotel after an especially rough night in Miami.”
  • “This is the inside of Stephen Talkhouse in Ammagansett. It’s one of the last remaining authentic venues in the Hamptons. Everyone from Tom Petty to Slick Rick has performed there over the years.”
  • Chloe Norgaard, a model for one of DON's lookbooks
  • Self-portrait              

09/23/14 Photographer PJ Monte On Documenting a Dying New York

You’d think a Hamptons-bred guy like PJ Monte would be predisposed to a life of kicking back in his boat shoes. More about the hustle than hanging loose, the Montauk native started DON, a clothing line he began selling to private school kids out of a duffel bag.

Sinatra-emblazoned tees and off-shoulder sweatshirts with “Local” in big, bold letters represented both nostalgia and pride in place. As DIY as his operation was, the line also led Monte to shoot the lookbooks himself. Soon, Monte began to document more than just his label, especially after a move to Manhattan in 2007. Through both his camera and clothing, he sought to capture the dying breaths of New York’s freewheeling spirit, lost to condos and drug store chains.

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A group exhibition titled “Never Too Young” is the culmination of many nights spent chasing authentic New York moments with a flash. Joining other noted self-taught photographers, Monte puts the grit and glamour of brash youth on display, often—and rightfully so—in a blur.

Following the show, which was held at TriBeCa’s No Romance Gallery, Monte spoke to NOUS about his hometown’s faltering cool, why he’s no nightlife photographer, and how true New Yorkers are Teflon-coated from bullshit.

Just curious—what was the last photo you took and what made you want to take it? 

It was blurry flick I snapped off my phone last night at 6 a.m. on a stolen Citi bike. I took it to send over to a babe to let her know I was still on the street.

There’s an unapologetic spontaneity to your photography–some photos even turn out blurry but are oddly captivating. Do you make it a point to evoke these elements in your work?

I don’t go out of my way to capture a specific style as much as I go out of my way to capture the moment. How the pictures turn out is a very raw, honest depiction of the moment or the subject, as well as my perspective at the time. My friends are my favorite subject and through the years, it’s been really cool watching them grow and change in my pictures.

Some articles have classified you a nightlife photographer. Do you identify as this?

I wouldn’t consider myself as a nightlife or party photographer. I just shoot my life and I happen to have been getting paid to party for years now so it is a considerable part of my life and therefore, my work.

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What led you to pick up a camera in the first place?

I started taking pictures when I was like 16 or 17, and I would shoot mainly for content for my clothing brand DON New York‘s website. But over time, I ended up being more into taking the pictures than making the clothes.  I was never really taught how to take pictures. I just did it.

Did any photography serve as inspiration in cultivating your style?

I’m more likely inspired by a box of family photos than a fashion editorial. It’s a lot about memories and authenticity for me.

If resources weren’t an issue, what would you like to shoot more of?

If I had an endless budget, I’d just travel more often and bring as many friends as possible. There would be plenty shellfish involved.

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Where do you usually go to find the material you do? Right now, are there still interesting places in New York for a photographer such as yourself?

In regards to New York as a subject, I more and more appreciate the slowly disappearing “old New York.”  These brand new restaurants, nightclubs, even entire neighborhoods have no character or soul, so lately I do my best to document the beauty of the old New York before it’s replaced by condos and Walgreens.  There are still exciting things happening but they seem more and more further and far apart to me. New York will always be the king but it’s not the Wild West like it once was, but true New Yorkers will always know how to navigate through the bullshit.

Why was it important for you to involved in something like the “Never Too Young” show?

My good friends and co-Peter Pan Posse members Mint & Serf (The Mirf) curated the show in conjunction with their latest SGU zine release, where my work was displayed in. It was a great turnout all in all. They told me there were over 600 people in attendance. We all sold pieces and got considerable buzz off the opening.

Besides the photography, what else is on your plate these days?

Mint calls me Renaissance P because I’m always up to 20 things at a time. I shoot videos such as my Public Access show Scene Zine, and more recently, I directed some music videos for Daytona & Harry Fraud, amongst others. I continue to put out clothing for my brand DON New York, which I’ve run on and off since I was 17. I DJ three to four nights a week and furthermore, I’m opening a restaurant upstate with my family who’ve been in the restaurant business for 100-plus years now.

For DON, you started out reflecting the Montauk lifestyle through the clothes. Having lived and thrived in NYC for the past seven years, how has your label evolved?

In the beginning it was the height of the streetwear era, like ‘08-‘09, so it was a lot of tacky bold graphics that sold well at the time, but that I personally wouldn’t wear much of nowadays. I do my best to only put out clothes that I would wear and be proud to put my name on, so I think the brand’s aesthetic has been a personal thing that has evolved with me and my style as I’ve grown.

Has Montauk itself evolved?

Montauk has completely evolved. It was a sleepy blue-collar surfing and fishing village that was rarely even considered part of the Hamptons. Nowadays, every spot is a kitschy surf-themed nightclub packed to the brim with collared pastel shirt- and flip-flop-wearing share house dwellers. There are very few places that remain authentic or sacred anymore out there, and I’m gonna keep my trap shut on them because letting the secret out is what’s made the place change the way it has. Montauk has always been cool, since Bianca Jagger would shuck clams for Andy Warhol at Shagwong’s. Then the secret got out and everyone suddenly wanted to be a Montauk guy once they read about it in the Times.

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