Mona Breede's photographs capture the chaotic and leveling atmosphere of big cities that allows for anonymity and isolation, even within a crowded arena. She arrests the movement of the contemporary cityscape in her composites, capturing people navigating the architecture and each other. In most of Breede's images people appear small and almost toy-like against the vast built environment. She uses dramatic lighting to create an ambiguous, hyper-real atmosphere in images that are dynamic but also possess the static character of architectural renderings.

To create her images Breede combines elements from multiple photographs, all shot from the same camera position at the same location. Typically she observes the light at a location during the course of a full day in order to discover when it is the most moody and atmospheric. Then she exposes her background image. Breede subsequently returns to the site many times to record people passing through. Later, at her computer, she begins the difficult work of composing the image – executing the «choreography», as she describes it – of people in the urban environment. Breede is careful to place her figures in poses that could have happened, positioning each person in a way that mimics the patterns and behaviors she observed at the scene.

During her travels through Asia, Europe, and North America to create the series, Breede felt that the task of choosing the backgrounds for her pictures had become difficult as architectural styles are being copied world-wide and urban centers increasingly resemble each other. She often selects unspectacular, non-recognizable corners of cities to use as her backdrops, yet her pictures do not stress homogeneity. The cities Breede depicts are distinct in their character because she focuses on variable elements such as atmosphere and human movement, rather than on the familiar architecture in the background.

Breede's photographs suggest that despite homogenizing factors such as globalization and modernism, every city is unique. In her work the architecture is only the backdrop for stories and lives that prevent the city from disappearing into the generic. This is less a commentary on the failure of utopian vision than a recognition that cities are much more than their architecture – they are an unruly, constantly shifting blend of energy, climate, people, actions, ways of thinking, planning, infrastructure, and light – each one a unique microcosm of humanity.

Karen Irvine, Curator 
Museum of Contemporary Photography
Columbia College Chicago