Local polymath Kevin Monko is a professional photographer and accomplished musician whose band, MONKO, was recently nominated by the Patch Readers' Choice poll as one of the region's favorite musical acts.
We sat down with Kevin this week to find out more about what drives his creativity, his advice for other artists, and the story behind the best photograph he ever took.
Collingswood Patch: Do you have a philosophy of photography?
Kevin Monko: Great question. No. I think everything I do is really trying to twist the world to my liking, to get some ownership of it. With art or my music or my songs, they tend to be unexpected. There's stuff about them that kind of skews things to somehow represent my reality.
And humor too, I can't resist the urge to sort of be funny or weird or off-beat somehow. Like all of a sudden whatever it is, suddenly becomes my conversation, my scene. [Like in] Beyond the Valley of the Dolls...the guy's having the party and he looks around and he goes, “This is my happening, and it's freaking me out!”
Patch: Choosing a career in photography, or any creative field, can be scary. Who inspired you to stay the course and do what you love?
Monko: I didn't have any mentors in the fields of photography or music, but I always had people around me who made me feel like the stuff I was doing was worthwhile. I never had somebody telling me, “No, that would be stupid to be a poet,” or, “No, you don't want to be a musician, you want to go into business, “ or “No, you shouldn't be a photographer. Why do you think you should be a photographer? You've never taken a picture in your life.”
I think the people who knew me generally thought that whatever I put my mind to would end up being a worthwhile thing.
I mean, it was really just my mom.
Patch: Tell me about one of your proudest accomplishments as an artist.
Monko: This friend of mine, his mom got ill. She was in the hospital, and she wasn't going to leave the hospital. They knew she was going to die. He always told me, he lived in South Philly at the time, that, “Oh, today she came down and she went to Saint Rita's.” Down in South Philly, there was this Saint Rita's shrine.
So, she's in the hospital and for some reason I remembered she used to go that shrine all the time. So I try to find this shrine. So I find St. Rita's shrine, and I go in there and it's just, like, a basement of this church with several statues of St. Rita, and there's flowers and rosaries and stuff.
I took a bunch of pictures of St. Rita and the shrine. I shot them on film, took them to the lab. While they were being processed, I went to Wanamaker's and bought a frame that was like a fold-out triptych. I went back, got the pictures, framed three of these pictures of St. Rita in this triptych, and it looked kind of religious, this frame, and I had them delivered to the hospital.
So, my friend said his mom got these pictures and she was like, “Ed! Ed! It's Saint Rita! Saint Rita!” and she was clutching them and she couldn't believe it. It was like they came from heaven or something. And she lived for a week after that, but she was holding them when she died.
I'll never take a picture that good again. That was awesome. I mean, I'm not going to take a more meaningful photograph than that.
Patch: How would you describe the music that your band, MONKO, makes, using other musicians and bands as adjectives?
Monko: There's a lot of word-play, so I'd say it's kind of Beefheart-ian and Costello-ish, but with a Jagger-ish kind of swagger to the band. It's got a Bowie-esque glamour and Sousa-ish high-spiritedness. Oh, and a T-Rexian sex appeal and a Stockhausen-ish intensity. And I'd say a Randy Newman-ish via Flannery O'Connor sort of dark melancholy, you know?
Patch: What advice would you give people who want to be more creative or artistic?
Monko: It's always an effort. You just have to have to commit to stuff. You have to say, “This is gonna happen,” and then you have to make it happen. It's only you. If you're creating for other people, then you're screwed to begin with. You find the time.
I almost need deadlines. For example, with writing songs, every once in a while you'll get inspired and you'll think of a song and go, “Oh yeah that's a good idea.” So then it's easy to fall into the pattern of waiting for the inspiration to strike.
But anybody who's a writer will tell you, “You want to be a writer, you write.” That's what you do, you write, like, everyday, just all the time, and then you're a writer.
I want to do stuff, make stuff, and it's not a matter of making my mark on the world. I don't care about the legacy of it, but I like creating a world that I like being in.
Kevin Monko's band, MONKO, will be performing at Fergie's Pub in Center City Philadelphia on Friday, Sept. 14.