‘I’m pretty sure he was checking his own phone at the time’: Monaris’s best phone picture

It was a moody January morning in Brooklyn, New York, when Monaris, whose real name is Paola Franqui, headed to a local pier to meet a group of strangers. The 100 or so she found there were fellow Instagram aficionados, armed with iPhones and a sense of camaraderie and possibility. It was 2014 and the social media platform was booming. “I was working nine to five for a Taiwanese logistics company at the time,” she says, “but photography was my passion. After that day, I started taking it more seriously; three years later, I was saying no to so many opportunities that I quit my job and went full-time.”

Looking back, Monaris feels lucky to have started out when she did. “It’s harder to build your brand now, because there are so many of us.”

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The man in the photo is a fellow Instagrammer she shot spontaneously with her iPhone 5, under the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge. She is pretty sure he was checking his own phone at the time. “I used to shoot a lot of figures from behind, but my style has evolved since then,” she says. “Now I want to see faces and expressions; I want that human connection.”

Her cinematic bent is long established. “When I colour-edit my photos, I use a preset I designed myself. It’s how I create my aesthetic. I want people to look at my photos and know it’s me, like when you hear a song on the radio and know who it’s by. If I can achieve that, mission accomplished.”