Interview with Photographer Alex Martinez
Interview by Nicole Wong
Edited by Michael Polce
“The cliché saying about photography is reality; it reflects what’s going on in life, that’s not true at all. There’s nothing objective about photography. As soon as you look through the lens, make decisions on what to include and what not to include in the frame, it’s not reality. It becomes an impression of what you see around you.” – Alex Martinez
SF-based photographer Alex Martinez has worn many hats, but his expertise and passion lie strictly in photography, and he is happy to let the experts be experts in their respective fields. Down to earth, knowledgeable and creative, Martinez believes in sculpting his craft by adhering to a constant learning curve from various individuals. He draws his inspirations from different sources in order to be on top of the game. When he is not looking through the lens, Martinez is constantly searching for the perfect cup of coffee.
ASTONISH: Have you found the perfect cup of coffee?
ALEX: It’s funny because that line was inspired by my search for the perfect wave as a surfer when I was living in Southern California: it’s a surfer’s goal. And to answer your question, no I haven’t. You will never find the perfect cup of coffee, but it’s fun trying since there’s a huge coffee culture up here [in San Francisco].
ASTONISH: What differentiates a good model from a bad one? What makes a good model?
ALEX: Obviously they got to have a look about them, but what it all comes down to is their work ethics – great attitude, great discipline, great professionalism, and a team player by amplifying the talents of the other members in the team. Being pretty or photogenic is not enough, they need to be a good asset to the team and claim their space as a creative professional. Having the ability to switch in and out of personas for different looks, like an actor, is important too.
ASTONISH: What draws you to photography?
ALEX: I love art, and I am very fixated on creating great composition that focuses on lines, contours, design, color, and contrast as opposed to the superficiality of beauty. When I first started out with photography, everything was captured on film. The beginning to the end of the manual process was such a gratifying experience for me, like the elements of surprise from the negatives after each developing process. Not saying it was better, just different. Seeing all the talented collaborations crafting out a single vision definitely draws me to it, too.
ASTONISH: What is beauty?
ALEX: It’s more than symmetry; it’s beyond what we’re pre-programmed to find certain things attractive. To me, beauty has a lot more to do with the audience, how well we know them and the context of photography, as opposed to the models or subject. Beauty is newness, simplicity, timeless but still pushing the envelope a little bit. Originality that encompasses a sense of contribution to a greater movement, like a trend that has been taken up to the next level – evoking emotional reactions. That’s pretty amazing.
ASTONISH: If you have a chance to work with anyone in this world, who would it be and why?
ALEX: I would be happy just to spend a day with Nick Night. I don’t even have to work with him. I would spend the day by asking him loads of questions, get him coffee, watch and learn as a bystander, as a student. That guy is a legend.
Other than that, my dream assignment would be to travel with Monocle magazine to photograph the street style, and the environments that create those street styles around the world. Better yet, go traveling for Monocle magazine on an assignment, with Nick Night.
ASTONISH: Every photo shoot is based on a concept, and where do you draw your inspirations?
ALEX: A lot of my inspirations come from my client’s vision, and the ideas that bounce back and forth during our early conservations that involve everybody. It’s really gratifying when my clients trust me to fulfill their visions for them. It’s a huge compliment, and with that bit of pressure, I find myself paying really close attention to their vision before articulating it for them.
My personal inspirations come from painters such as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollack, and John Cage – a personal favorite, when I was a student in New York. I learned a lot from people who are better than me, and by studying what they are doing right and how they approach things can be very motivating for me to stay on top of the game.
Simply put, never get complacent, and be a real student of your craft – something that’s relevant to your style and someone whom you admire.
ASTONISH: Tell us about some of the challenges you face in your job.
ALEX: I used to encounter many people who think photography is easy due to what they see over the internet, or with the thinking that they can produce the same kind of standards that are comparable to professional photography with their digital cameras. That attitude undermines my craft, and by not respecting what I do when I should be the one who’s bringing something to the table can be really frustrating. Rationalizing with them instead of getting personal or defensive would be a way to overcome the challenges.
ASTONISH: Between fashion, beauty, product or nature shoots, which category do you love most and why?
ALEX: I have only delved into beauty shots in the last couple of years, and it’s a completely different entity all together compared to fashion or nature shots. Beauty shoots require much more precision from the entire team, hence making them slower. And the hard work that everyone puts in really motivates me to sculpt the shoot to perfection, to bring out the team’s talent with the wow factor.
Nature shoots are way more difficult to get it right, and to set yourself apart as a photographer from the experts in that area. I have nothing but respect for them, but I personally do not enjoy nature shoots at all, and I am not going to pretend to be good at it. I will say, let the experts be the experts.
It’s a tough call between beauty and fashion shoots. Fashion shoots incorporate great hair and makeup artists, great designers, as well as really good graphic designers because they’re going to take your work and walk through it some more. Fashion shoots are all about collaborative problem solving, and team efforts that allow more room for spontaneity and creativity along the way.
ASTONISH: Which photo app do you love the most?
ALEX: I am one of the few professional photographers, who love Instagram, and I love what Instagram is doing for photography. It has turned everybody with a smartphone to be a photographer – going through their day, taking a minute and recognizing something awesome and capturing something beautiful everyday. And it has helped many of my clients to articulate what they love in terms of photography style. There are many insecure photographers out there who hate Instagram, thinking it’s cheapening the experience of photography, the industry or mimicking old flaws of film, but I feel it’s more about their worries of them being under valued as a photographer. Instagram, as a medium and an art form, has done nothing but created more photographers appreciating photography. If Instagram was a real threat to my craft, then I must be doing something wrong, and I should really improve on being a better photographer because there should be more to it than that.
ASTONISH: What is trending in photography right now?
ALEX: Well, that would tie in perfectly with smartphone photography and Instragram, because several of my clients are now more interested in the look and feel of Instagram than ever before. When digital photography first came out, every camera in the market is engineered to be the best by producing perfectly beautiful crisp, sharp, clean, and saturated photographs. Over time, we started to miss the imperfections from film photography that has a soft focus, or photographs with a lens flare that makes them more dynamic and unpredictable. Those in-between moments are perceived as nostalgic and cool with human elements added to it. It’s not so much about the subject anymore, but how you approach the subject. As a matter of fact, many of my big clients have specifically requested for that imperfection and a human touch to the photographs that the readers resonate with. This has been a welcoming trend for me.
ASTONISH: Describe a good day in your field of work.
ALEX: It’s definitely when I surprise myself with the amazing work that I produce when I am behind the camera. A good photoshoot has a lot of call and response going on among all members of the team. I love it when my clients and the team appreciate and compliment my work, telling me I have nailed it. That really makes my day, as it’s a really gratifying experience.
ASTONISH: How would you describe your style as a photographer?
ALEX: Professionally, I am not always presented with the opportunities to execute that style but there’s a style that I am chasing. One day I hope to be hired to do a black and white Film de Noire – cinematic, dark in tone beauty shoot that required very challenging lighting. In other words, moody editorial fashion shoot that depicts old Hollywood style. I love black and white photography not for nostalgic reasons, but for a reductive quality allowing you to focus on the essential elements that exudes the essence of photography, and it also leaves more to the imagination. Perhaps I wouldn’t describe it as my style, but rather how I conduct myself with a strong focus on light, line, composition, and the black and white philosophy of less is more ; allowing a feeling of mood to play out.
For more of Alex’s works: visit portfolio.photosophic.com.