This is another installment in our continuing series where we talk to photographers whose work we’ve appreciated on Flickr.
This week we feature Claire Martin.
cinemafia: In your artist’s statement you indicate that you moved into photography from the field of social work because of its ability to affect change. Could you elaborate on the qualities of photography that give it a greater power over other forms of social work?
Claire Martin: Well, I wouldn’t say it has greater power, just that it also has power to create change. An image can’t create change all on its own; it needs the momentum of people in other industries like social work, politics and law, etc. to put the feelings that a photo incites into practice, so they work together. An image only has to be seen to be understood, so there is potential to reach a very large audience with photography. That said, if an image strikes a chord with people, it can change the way they think about certain things and in turn their actions may reflect this change.
cinemafia: Is the end result, the images themselves, of a greater importance than the process of taking them? Why or why not?
Claire Martin: The process of taking the image is about changing and challenging my own ideas and perceptions, a fairly self-indulgent process. The end result, hopefully, if it’s any good, is about changing and challenging a broader group of people – and if you can do this, it is invariably more important. Personally though, I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t express myself with photography.
cinemafia: How does having a camera in your hand change the outcome of what you do?
Claire Martin: Hmmmm, this is a difficult question. I guess it means I want something from the person I am photographing. I need to be clear in my intent because I am going to make public our encounter and hence certain aspects of their life. If you mean with regard to my social work background and creating change, this often means photographing people in unfortunate circumstances, so I need to be sensitive to their needs and the repercussions the photo may have on their lives. Mostly people don’t care, but it is worth considering. On a more literal level, having a camera definitely changes the outcome of events. Most people behave differently in front of a camera. It is a blessing when you find a person who is unaffected by the lens.
cinemafia: Have you personally seen any instances where the power of one photographer’s images was used to affect society in a negative way?
Claire Martin: I can’t think of any offhand. I tend to think of all the images that created change for the good, like Mary Ellen Mark’s pictures of Mother Theresa’s plight, the naked girl in a napalm attack in Vietnam by Nick Ut – countless pictures. But of course I am sure there are many examples of photography images used to affect society in a negative way. Recently, I saw a photo of John McCain having Thanksgiving dinner with his family, and the editor cropped it down to him sawing at the turkey with a maniacal grin on his face and published it this way. Uncropped, it was his whole family at the table with him carving for them. It’s definitely easy to manipulate the truth.
cinemafia: One of the running themes I see in your work is the sense of an anthropological pursuit. You seem to have a strong desire to arrive at unique faces of humanity that show themselves in the corners and niches of our world. You seek out the odd and quirky, the isolated, the disenfranchised. Could you describe how you go about finding your subjects, and why you choose them?
Claire Martin: You are right, I have always loved anthropology and studied it alongside my social work degree. Culture fascinates me. I seek out things I am interested in shooting, and I am interested in issues of social justice and quirky cultural niches, so when I hear about something odd or interesting to me, I do my best to explore those avenues. If this means financing a holiday to get there, I’ll do my best to do just that. If it’s in my area, I spend my spare time searching around trying to meet people who will let me photograph them.
cinemafia: Have there been any instances where a particularly interesting, potential subject turned you down?
Claire Martin: There are images that stay in my mind as vividly as photographs, but I never was able to take the picture – in particular, when I was in the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver. One huge, strong young man was dressed up as some kind of grizzly bear king with an Indian feather headpiece and a fur blanket wrapped around him – and it was so perfectly executed. The guy was an absolute vision. I crossed the road and initiated conversation, and I had my camera out, but he was so intense and aggressive and out of touch with reality. He started talking about all the nice young girls who had gone missing in the area and I freaked out and kindly excused myself and left. He didn’t want his photo taken and he was tapped. I wasn’t going to push it, although to this day I still think about what a perfectly amazing image it would have been.
Continue reading ‘Found on Flickr: Claire Martin’