MANILA, Philippines - It’s been more than 15 years since I met a very young Emman Montalvan. We’re the same age, and we traveled the same social circles, bumping into each other at least once a week — back then, it was the clubs, of course. He was only starting out with his photography and we had the chance to work together a few times. As early as then, I could already see he was different from the rest. He had a unique energy about him, almost never playing it safe during shoots. And then, one day, he just packed everything up and moved to LA. And the rest, shall we say, is history.
Fast forward to 2017 and Emman is now one of the up-and-coming photographers based on the West Coast. He shoots for W magazine, Teen Vogue, WWD, Allure, Marie Claire, Vice Magazine, Glamour UK and InStyle, just to name a few. A couple of days ago, Emman came home briefly to shoot Liza Soberano as the new face of eyewear brand Sunnies Studios. Having recently shot the cover of Wonderland magazine and with frequent work for the hip online platform Reformation, Emman Montalvan is making waves in the industry. YStyle quickly sat down with Emman to catch up with his adventures abroad and what’s next for him.
YSTYLE: How did you start your career as a photographer? Has it always been something you wanted to do?
EMMAN MONTALVAN: I was into painting when I was a kid but I am so ADD, I’d be over my painting way before it was done. When I got introduced to photography through my older sister during my last two years in high school, I immediately fell in love with it.
What made you decide to leave Manila?
I met so many of my good friends there. I was young and eager. Manila was actually my first taste of the big city since I used to live between Cagayan De Oro and Bukidnon.
I moved to Manila in 2003. After my dad passed away in 2008, I stayed for a few more months to graduate and then I moved back to Mindanao. I was about 22 at that time and after a few months of living back in the province, I decided I wanted to move to LA. I really wanted to give it a shot and become a photographer. So in mid-2010, I packed my camera and a small bag and moved to Los Angeles.
How long have you been living in LA?
Gah! I can’t believe this but I’ve been here for almost seven years. LA is so amazing and the city is so vibrant — it’s full of people who are all taking chances and chasing their dreams. LA really pushes you to hustle. I also get to spend some of my time in New York because of work but that city is another story.
Who are your photography heroes?
I respect so many photographers. Recently I got introduced to the work of Joel Sternfeld and his portraits and landscape images are simple but so striking and beautiful.
Favorite subject to shoot?
I just love working with people. It could be anyone, really. In my personal time I do enjoy shooting still life (subjects) too.
Who is your muse?
I honestly don’t have a particular muse. I just really enjoy getting the chance to photograph someone. The moment is so precious and the subject has to be somewhat vulnerable for us to get images that are special. I value that trust and that time given to me.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I get it from everyday life and my experiences. I think a lot during long road trips. I love meeting new people and going to places I’ve never been. I’m kind of a sensitive guy so I absorb a lot.
What are your tips to aspiring photographers who want to make it international?
Take the risk! It’s not going to be easy but it will be worth it. The key is to be patient and “Just keep swimming” no matter what. Honestly, something magical happens when you step out of your comfort zone. Challenge yourself and go do what you really love! YOLO! (Do people still say that?) Also one last tip that is golden is to be kind to everyone along the way.
How do you see yourself 10 years from now?
I honestly don’t know. That’s kind of the nice thing about life because you don’t really know what to expect. Anything goes. I just try my best to do the things I love every day.
What’s next for Emman Montalvan?
I have so much more to learn and growing up to do in my life and in my career. Also, what’s next for me is not just all work but also to live life and enjoy it. There’s still so much out there for me to see and absorb — photography-related or not.
It’s important to experience and acknowledge the complexity of life as that makes us grow and evolve. Those life experiences can hopefully inspire our work and give it something special.
I am just excited to live more every year and am grateful for everything. Rock on!