The fifth winner in the 2010 Portfolio Project is Guillermo Martin. Guillermo was born in Buenos Aires, grew up in Madrid, and now lives and works in Dallas. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, his art is also cosmopolitan in its concentrations, presenting beautifully composed images of lands remote and exotic from what most of us are used to. Fishermen of Hue is a wonderfully dramatic, densely detailed document of the daily life of fishermen in the Vietnamese town of Hue.
- Can you please tell me about the winning image you submitted, Fishermen of Hue? What’s the story behind it?
- This image was taken on one of my trips to Southeast Asia; in Hue, Vietnam. I was taking pictures of a fishing market in the village, and walked towards the back of the market, close to the water. I observed how there was a constant activity of fishermen coming and going bringing their fish in their baskets and it caught my attention. Vietnam is one of those places where you see beauty everywhere you look. It is an incredible place for black-and-white photography!
- What brought you to Vietnam? Was it specifically a photo-hunting trip, or were you there for other reasons?
- It was a photo-hunting trip. For the last few years I’ve been totally mesmerized by Southeast Asia, and have traveled to Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, India, etc. It’s been several years and I just can’t get enough of that part of the world; the people, the culture and the places are just incredible… In fact, I am planning another Vietnam trip in early 2011 as, in my last one, I was unable to reach the Sapa region due to landslides affecting the trains.
- Travel seems a constant in your work. How do you conceive of “place” in your work? Is it something that you think of as paramount, or are these simply the locations where the best photos “leap” to your eye?
- I don’t think of places first, rather the pictures jump to me in these particular places. Travel is in fact a constant in my work, because these remote places and remote cultures are fascinating to me. I am always trying to find a way to embed in my photos the feelings I am experiencing when in a particular place or scene. I almost never plan the “place” or “scene” in advance. In fact, most of my trips lack a planned itinerary or schedule the day I arrive.
- One of the things that struck me about this image was the density of detail, the amount of interesting visual data that is packed into the scene. In a way, it reminds me of the old nineteenth-century European etchings which captured whole spreads of intricate scenes in iconic black-and-white. Can you talk a little about any artists or art styles that you think are particularly influential on your own? Do you consciously adapt things you learn from other work?
- I think mostly I adapt from other work I see in a subconscious way. When it comes to black-and-white, my favorite images have been all taken with a Rolleiflex. Nothing beats the Rollei…there is a feel to those images that is unique, and they transmit an air of nostalgia and romanticism that I have not seen replicated exactly in any other way… I like using medium format because I see a square as a much better area to compose on. I like to focus on grain, dodge & burn style (William Eugene Smith comes to mind) and composition. But most importantly, the photo needs to transmit what I am feeling and experiencing… If it does, then that’s a good image.
- On your website, you mention that you shoot in both film and digital. Can you talk about the differences between the two and how it affects your work?
- I love both film and digital, and while I shoot a lot more digital than film now, film will always be there, because nothing beats it in rough conditions. I started years ago with pinhole cameras made out of small boxes, and that’s how I plan to explain and teach photography to my kids.
There is also the matter of ruggedness. In Thailand, my digital Nikon died from extensive exposure to humidity, but my F5 kept going without a problem, even in heavy rain.
With that said, the immediacy of seeing results in digital can’t be beat, and it allows you to be somewhat certain you are getting the results you want, rather than waiting days to see. I started in photography by doing underwater photography with film, and there were good days and bad days, but you never knew until you developed. I think we are all more used to seeing immediate results today. With that said, Medium format digital is a fantastic experience, with unbeatable qualities; especially now that digital backs are getting cheaper and better (it’s my format of choice today). Still, nothing beats an old Rollei.
- Especially given your interest in travel, your work sometimes straddles that line between composition and documentary. Can you comment on this? Do you have a “mission” when you take photos, a sort of compelling urge or purpose to be fulfilled?
- I absolutely have a “mission”. I love understanding and being exposed to different cultures, different ways of thinking, different ways of understanding the world we live in. Something that is constantly in my thoughts is how the Western world is exporting its culture everywhere and how key cultural aspects of different places in the world are disappearing rapidly. McDonald’s, Starbucks, etc. are everywhere now, and that happens at the expense of local cultures.>
One image that stuck in my head was what I saw a few years ago when I spent a few days with a Thai tribe in the jungle, with little or no electricity, one shower for the village, house fire for cooking, etc. yet the kids played soccer and some even had t-shirts with the colors and emblems of the Brazilian national team. I couldn’t help but think that, in a few years, they might all be skateboarding, and I don’t necessarily consider that a good thing. I want to see as much of the world as possible before it all turns into “the same everywhere,” and I want to show people how beautiful it is, how incredible the people that inhabit this planet really are.
- Thanks, Guillermo. We really appreciate your time.
- Thank you Alex, and thank you for noticing my work!