On founding festivals and publishing photobooks:
an interview with Erin Cross

Questions & Translation: Callum Beaney



Since moving to Tokyo from the Philippines, Erin Cross has been publishing zines and street photography projects via Instagram Story. In 2017 she launched MONØMANIA, a festival dedicated to black and white photography. Callum Beaney asked her a few questions about her work.

[CB]: First of all, could you tell us about the festival you set up in Manila, and a little about what you focused on/curated? I remember seeing a lot of photobooks.

It was in 2017. The festival was called MONØMANIA. It was a two-day event that had numerous activities: exhibitions, artist talks, developing workshops, photobook open library, merchants, photobooths, slideshows with live music, etc – everything in black and white. It involved more than 300 artists from all over the world since I featured many artists – aside from the people who attended. There, I was able to invite Tatsuo Suzuki to visit. I also launched my first photobook there.

I believe that MONØMANIA was the first photo festival (in Asia?) that focused on black and white. And even though there are a loooot of photographers in the Philippines, we unfortunately don’t have photography festivals there, which is why MONØMANIA was well-received by the community. Many sent their photozines/books for free so I included everything in the photobook library. Some of those came from overseas, though. A few days after the festival, I had to leave for Japan. It was my way of “saying goodbye” to my photography-related life in Manila. Here in Tokyo, I tried to continue MONØMANIA as a platform. But after many attempts, I recently decided to put it on hiatus so I could focus on my personal projects first.

絵凛クロスは、フィリピンから東京に引っ越して以来、写真雑誌を出版し、インスタグラムのストーリーでストリート写真プロジェクトを投稿してきました。 2017年、白黒写真に焦点を当てたフェスティバル、MONØMANIAを立ち上げました。カル・ビーニーはクロスさんにいくつか質問をした。






Did you find that focus on lifestyle, subculture, etc. got people from other arts disciplines interested in photography? The art world can be quite intimidating to outsiders.

Yes, certainly. Non-photographers must have some connection with one’s photographs for them to grasp what we are trying to express. A good example would be my family. They’ve always been supportive with what I do but they also admit that they cannot understand the pictures I take most of the time. To them, being a photographer means taking portraits of everyone whenever there’s a family gathering, or probably winning photo contests. However, when they are able to see my works in a form of a book which they can keep at home, or whenever they are able to come to my exhibitions, they somehow understand that what I do is a different, special kind of photography. And they respect that. :)

I’ve heard that the photo community in Tokyo is very insular. What has your experience been like making friends and socialising around photography been like?

As a foreigner, I honestly find it challenging to make friends here, especially with Japanese people in the photographic community. They’re quite intimidating and it’s probably because I’m not yet confident in expressing myself in Japanese.

However, I learned a couple of things recently. One, during my recent group exhibition in Yoyogi-Uehara: even though most of my photographs appear “normal” to most Japanese people (eg. strangers on trains, 自動販売機), they find it amusing how foreigners, such as myself, are amused with those “normal” things, and somehow, showing those photos to them kind of make them start seeing differently. Two, ever-since I have started @womeninstreetjapan, I realized how this niche is saturated by (mostly older) men, which probably makes most women uncomfortable with the craft. The few Japanese women who are actively sharing their works on Instagram are also quite elusive and they would only respond with short messages. It would be interesting to break into this hard wall someday soon. :)





外国人として友人を作るのが正直に難しいし、特に、写真家コミュニティの中では難しかったです。 それはかなりビクビクする経験で、おそらく日本語で表現する自信がないからでしょう。

しかし、最近いくつかのことを気づきました。一つには代々木上原での一番最近のグループ展の最中には、わたしの写真が日常的なもの(例えば見知らぬ乗客、Vending machines)を描いているけど、日本人はそうした外人の傾向を見て面白がっています。見せることで見方の変化をもたらさせるそうです。


[Eugenie Shinkle]: I wanted to ask you about your own work – whether you see yourself as sitting within a tradition of Japanese street photography, whether you’re trying to express a different kind of relationship to public space?

I see myself sitting wherever I can: sometimes I get pushed aside a lot, and sometimes I stay put until I decide to leave. I’m always trying different ways to “make” pictures. For about 3 years now, I take loop photos of sleeping people inside trains, which is common among other street photographers, but I do it because I see myself in them: already tired even in the morning on the way to work, exhausted especially after working going back home.

Then, I have been religiously sharing my daily diptychs as a way to document my commute. There, I want to show that I always pass by the same streets, but I always see a different grit. Recently, too, I started doing live Instagram videos, where I do screenshots at the same time. I also encourage my viewers to do their own screenshots, so I feel like I am doing a photowalk with them. I do these unusual approaches in street photography not solely to delve away from what other street photographers do, but to keep my content fresh – they already look redundant since everything is in black and white. I don’t overthink if they’ll work or not. It helps when my followers let me know what they want to see, so I can – all the more – look closer and be more creative.





Now, I take pictures of whatever I want, however I want – without thinking if many would like them or not… no one can please everyone.


[CB]: In regards to your own work, does institutional legitimization matter as much to you as that communal aspect? I wonder if thinking of photography as a lifestyle offers a bit more freedom — I see many photographers, in the course of promoting their work, begin to focus on pre-emptively inserting themselves into the art-history canon and making work that is trying to be groundbreaking. Or they try to make work that is e.g. “Like Araki”. But these can make it much harder to connect with people, right?

This is true in all forms of art. To me, art is the ultimate self-expression, and it cannot be “real” unless we draw from what we really feel. Being inspired by other artists, is of course, part of being aware and tasteful. When one sees my work for the first time, that person can easily say that I shoot like Moriyama. I adore the guy, but I honestly haven’t seen all of his works and whenever I do and see some semblance of how we took pictures, I realize again that nothing is entirely original – and this is okay. Copying is eternal. It’s what we do. The only difference is how we copy things. I also think that the older I get, the less I care about what pictures I should make.

About five years ago, I attended a portfolio review where I submitted two photo series: one showed the maze-like ins and outs of Shinjuku Station; and the other showed a number discarded toilet seats that I’ve collected throughout the years. My reviewer at that time didn’t seem to appreciate both. I stopped continuing both series because, after having a bad review, I thought nobody else would want to see them. A few years later, I got a pat on the back by a Japanese street photographer (Tadashi Onishi) and said that “The Labyrinth of Shinjuku” is his favorite work of mine. A few years later as well, Takeki Sugiyama believed in me and “Lacklustre” made its way to an exhibition in Kobe’s Mt. Rokko International Photo Festival.

Now, I take pictures of whatever I want, however I want – without thinking if many would like them or not. Such a cliche, but yes, no one can please everyone. Sometimes, I still feel so lost in translation. To me, experiencing both is good. Just keep on going.



5年ぐらい前、出席したポートフォリオレビューに二つのシリーズを提出しました。一番目は新宿駅の迷路のような入り口と出口を探った作品、そしてもう1つは、何年にもわたって集めたいくつかの捨てられた便座を示しました。その時の評論家はあまり評価しなかったようです。悪い評価を貰った後、他の人にも興味ないはずだって思ってきて、両方のシリーズを諦めました。でも数年後、日本のストリート写真家の大西正はその同じ「新宿の迷宮」シリーズが彼の一番好きな私の作品だと言いました。数年後にも、杉山武毅も私を評価し、“Lacklustre” (冴えないっていう意味)というシリーズは六甲山国際写真祭へ出品されました。


If while in Tokyo, you had funding to do any kind of public photography-related festival or event, what would you do and where?

If I had funding, I only have 2 ideas for now:

    • Part 2 of MONØMANIA photo fair in-between Shibuya and Shinjuku.
    • Invite established photographers to do intensive workshops with emerging photographers in producing photobooks, also in Tokyo!

I’ve seen you posting those loops & the Ostukare!’s on Insta — do you see your Instagram as a project in its own right?

It’s the most accessible and convenient tool that we have now as image-makers. I don’t have a hundred thousands of followers to flaunt, but I think reaching out to people all over the world is the best way to do. I also gave up on maintaining multiple accounts (except for @womeninstreetjapan, but 2 other photographer friends are helping me with it), so I think being creative even with using unique hashtags (#dypschits for example started out as a random word play only), helps with one’s online identity – if this matters at all.



1: MONØMANIA パート2、渋谷と新宿の間で開催します。
2: 大物写真家を新進写真家との写真集を製作する集中的なワークショップに誘って、それも東京でしたいです!



All Rights Reserved: text © Callum Beaney & Erin Cross; images © Erin Cross unless otherwise noted.