Pete Monsanto, 31, went from working in manholes to talking music with Kanye West. If he can do it, can you? Learn the hustle, as told by Mr. Monsanto.
TIME FOR A CHANGE
I used to work for a telecommunications company. I got laid off in Novemeber of 2009 [and] I probably wouldn’t have picked up a camera and said I’m really gonna do this if that didn’t happen. I knew I loved photos, but I didn’t take it as remotely as seriously as I take it now. I had a bunch of money saved up. I took 10 grand and I said alright, let’s do this thing. I bought a couple of Macs and everything that I needed and I got started.
I understood lighting and how it works. I just knew that from before, no traditional training. I’m mostly self-taught. A lot of trial and error, but I understood the technical aspect of how it worked. I’m a complete nerd. I used to work [in manholes] with fiber optics so just understanding gadgetry and the way things work.
Joe Budden at SOB’s— that was my very 1st show. I’m this gigantic 6’3” guy with a gigantic camera and I shot. I shot and I loved the way it felt.
A PERSONAL PROJECT BECOMES PROFESSIONAL
The Big Sean project as a whole has been something that I consider very personal to me. Def Jam didn’t ask me to do it initially. I had kind of just taken it over.
Big Sean’s been signed with Kanye for three years – three years, three mixtapes. Everybody stepped on him, but it just took progression and work. Leading up to his album everything that success meant to him in the making of Big Sean and Finally Famous, it’s kind of synonymous with what I do means to me.
I follow his body of work and I’m a huge fan, but just listening to his music from all three [volumes] of Finally Famous and just hearing him on features and things like that I knew he was gonna be special. Coming from my perspective listening to Big Sean and just doing what I do with the camera, I said I have to be there for this.
After taking a couple of pictures [a friend of mine at the Def Jam office saw them and] she said I saw your pictures. Do you think I could have them? The next thing you know, the batch of pictures that I sent them make their way through the entire office up to Steve [Bartles]. So I’m like great, that’s nice but that doesn’t mean they’re gonna call me back or anything. I was still gonna continue whatever it was, just working on [Big Sean] and his body of work because in the digital age, everybody’s got a camera.
I wanted [the Big Sean project] to look good because I wanted him to look good, so all the appearances that I could make it to [I was at]. Everything in New York I pretty much had covered. All of the stuff went up on uknowbigsean.com and defjam.com from his appearance on 106 & Park to every last show in New York. I was fortunate enough to be there. One thing that I’m blessed with is that the people at Def Jam have appreciated me 100 percent.
BEHIND THE SCENES OF “MARVIN GAYE AND CHARDONNAY”
I get down there and there was this electricity.
Hype Williams is there, so I walk in and I’m trying to maintain my cool. Kanye’s there and I go out in the hallway to just prepare and put my camera together because I’m never there for just one purpose. I’m taking pictures of everything. It’s always about building the story, that’s very important to me.
Then I hear these beats and the speakers are loud and the doors are shut in the studio, so I’m like ok I hear Jay-Z. I said wait a minute, they’re playing Watch the Throne. Kanye walks in and they’re having a private listening session of Watch the Throne on the video set. This shit was awesome.
As he starts shooting the video they’re a little apprehensive about the cameras being out even though they knew who I was he was like I don’t want any of these photos getting out, and I respect that. If they say they don’t want something, don’t do it because you’re gonna end up compromising your integrity and seeming more like paparazzi.
[Kanye] loosens up and I start to shoot some of the behind-the-scenes photos and the making of the record and just seeing everything that Sean had to go through was super awesome because there goes this young kid from Detroit who had a dream of doing it and made it and he even said it on the set, I used to watch all these Hype Williams videos when I was little and now Hype Williams is directing my shit. It was cool to be there for that moment and capture every bit of it and even be allowed to do so. I mean the journey is definitely something special and I’m just here to capture it on camera.
THE “NEW SCHOOL” PHOTOGRAPHER
I look at what I do as art. The “new school of photographers and videographers,” we’re under appreciated and no one would say that out loud but I’m the loud mouth and I’ll say it. I never want to do it for the wrong reasons. I never want to do it because I want a million dollars. I really honestly do it for the culture.
When I go to an event I’m there because I want to be there. I do what the hell I want. The artists interest me. I shoot everybody that I listen to. If I’m not really interested in the guy I’m not gonna go.
My ability to shoot has always been there, but you have to do so much to get people to just start looking at it. It’s a hustle. You can’t really walk into a lot places to just say hey. People wont even give you the time of day. You have to put your own work in the process and then they start to notice oh this kid is dope. You really gotta stand behind everything that you love. You can’t really listen to anybody who ever tells you no. You take those chances you take those opportunities and you make it happen. I totally believe in that and that’s why I am where I am now my definitive shot – most people go to my website and they’re like oh damn that’s Kanye West and that’s really gonna draw in a lot. People are noticing and times where I think nobody’s paying attention they are. I get calls and I hear from people in the industry like, yeah somebody was talking to me about you. You’re making a lot of noise.
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