RJ Muna is a photographer. He mostly takes pictures of people, places and things. Some things move (dancers and cars); and some things don't (mountains, glasses and rocks). He went to school but stared out the window a lot wishing he were taking pictures of clouds (that looked like dancers or mountains or cars). He grew up in Berkeley (which explains a lot).
Sometimes, people give him money to take pictures of things. Sometimes they don't. He's been known to shoot for food, but only if followed by a hot cappuccino and a delicate panna cotta. He's won a lot of awards, judged a lot of award shows and been written about in a lot of magazine articles. He's a people person and, as stated above, a places and things person. Some years back, he had an article written about him in CA.
A Convergence of Circumstance
If you have a degree in what field is it? I majored in art, with a concentration in design and minored in philosophy and comparative religion at San Jose State. Sounds a lot fancier than it was...
What was your strangest assignment? On a shoot for the Saturn EV-1 (the first electric car), I was asked to shoot a forest from above, meaning a helicopter. I had/got to stand outside on the skid and hang out at a 45-degree angle (held by a stout tether) to shoot down over the trees. The helicopter circled so I could shoot with a wide angle lens straight down without shooting any of the helicopter. Side note: Mix a crazy Vietnam era helicopter pilot with a thrill-seeking, reckless photographer, garnish with a disregard for gravity and “strange” only just begins to describe the experience.
Which photographer would you like to meet? Irving Penn. Considering he’s dead, it would be truly remarkable. Maybe someday it’ll happen...
What famous person (living or dead) would you most like to photograph? I suppose Lady Gaga has to be pretty high on the living list. The possibilities seem endless. Salvador Dali would be high on the dead list. Also great possibilities. It would be really interesting to see what he might think of Photoshop. Then there’s always Jesus or Buddha—the stock sales alone would be staggering.
Aside from your camera and lighting, what item could you not work without? A good idea is imperative. Because, to paraphrase, the unexamined life is not worth photographing.
Is there anything you would not digitally retouch? It seems the question refers to the idea that retouching is a lie of sorts. And that begs the question: Does photography lie? Yes, of course it does. Another way to look at it is, if you use the technology of a camera, why would retouching be off limits?
From where do your best ideas originate? The simple answer is a convergence of experience. Here’s the more complex answer: Imagine a roomful of blind flies. Ok that’s creepy. A roomful of blind bats. OK they’re already blind (sort of). So, imagine a roomful of blind hummingbirds (much better). Each hummingbird represents an experience or perception from your life and they’re furiously flying around the room. Occasionally, two or more of those blind hummingbirds collide. Presto, a convergence of circumstance. But I have to say the best ideas come when there are deaf cats. (Did I mention the deaf cats?)
How do you overcome a creative block? Usually, a creative block has to do with a lack of perspective. Taking a step back always seems to help, though I have to say it’s really hard to distinguish a creative block from, say, cheap scotch. Both will make your head hurt and, in both cases, you just need to sleep it off.
Do you have creative pursuits other than photography? I’m lucky in that I consider every day a creative pursuit. Then I get to take pictures of it, or make a film (does that count as “other”) about it. Some days are just more productive than others. But it’s all connected.
What music are you listening to right now? OK, really broad question. For the appetizer portion of our answer, let's start with a little Janelle Monae, Feist, topped with a little Zap Mama and some aged Beatles. Next would be some rare Ray Charles, Buddy Guy with a bit of Dinah Washington or Nina Simone on the side, garnished with Ray Lamontagne, Ben Harper, Beck and a touch of Gillian Welch. For dessert, some Arvo Part, Anour Brahem and maybe a little Astor Piazzolla or some Zoe Keating. For drive-through, maybe Florence and the Machine with some Kanye, Jay Z and a can of Nickleback (just kidding, never Nickleback). For that between-meal guilty pleasure, Lady Gaga—like a candy bar, she’s kinda gooey, kind nutty and gets stuck in your teeth.
What’s your approach to balancing work and life? I’ve never seen the two as separate. I’ve always felt extremely lucky to be able to make a living doing the thing I love. I’ve been sent all over the world, I’ve seen some incredible things and I’ve gotten to know some amazing people. And really, in the end, all I had to do was take a picture. How do you beat that?
What's your favorite quote? Just kinda makes me smile: “I’d give my right arm to be ambidextrous.” —attributed to Yogi Berra
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? I’d tell them, it's a terrible way to make a living, but it's a great life, then I’d let them figure it out from there. Some things are better known in retrospect.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? See above.