Landscape Stories: How did you first come to arts? What was it that drew you towards photography in particular?
Guy Martin: A strange feeling from a young age that pictures, still pictures of social issues, war conflict and journalism were having an emotional and thought provoking feeling in me, far more than was natural for a teenager growing up in a small coastal UK town. The pictures and work partially from the Vietnam era, Don McAllen, Larry Burrows and Philip Jones Grthiths drove me to be inquisitive, engaged me in global issues and allowed my mind to drift to people, issues and places far beyond the rural, safe and bucolic life that i was living. Socially engaged photographers made me stand up and urged me to be creative, get out into the world and instil in me a sense of curiosity that i would never have come by if i had followed another path into the sciences.
Landscape Stories: Who are your favorite artists and why?
Guy Martin: Artists who inspire me most at the moment are the ones that are challenging pre-conceived notions of visual story telling. Tim Hetherignton and his approach to story telling will always, always be a huge inspiration. Being able to mix video, sound, still images and text to inform and give an immersive experience makes my mind marvel. Chris Killip, always in my opinion vastly underrated in recognition was far ahead of his time. His contribution to British documentary practice, still looks as fresh today as when it was shot. After having a show at the Side Gallery in Englands north western city of Newcastle. The owners of the gallery also have a huge archive of various photographers work. They showed me boxes of prints from Killip’s ‘Sea Coal’ series. Which the gallery partly funded. I was blown away. It was full of contradictions for me. It was simple, yet utterly complex, it was close, but somehow allowed the vastness of the landscape to creep in, it was local but also universal. But honestly, the first time that i began to understand how documentary practice could also merge and happily co-exist with journalism was when i was studying photography at Newport and the lecturers we had. Ken Grant and his ‘rush slowly’ approach to documenting his hometown of Liverpool, Clive Landen’s breathtaking landscape images of the ‘foot and mouth’ farming and livestock story in the early 2000’s, Paul Seawrights work from Northern Ireland and Afghanistan, Simon Norfolk’s early work on memory, photography and genocide and Alfredo Jarr’s work from Rwanda. All these photographers were dealing, for one way or another in fairy traditional news, or fact based stories. But how they engaged with the work and really ‘used’ photography totally fascinated me. Perhaps i didn’t quite fully realise it then as i was on a more journalistic career path. But looking back on those formative years when i was studying, its clear how some of those photographers have directly impacted the way i work.
Landscape Stories: In your experience how photography is helpful to understand or comprehend reality and to dissolve doubtfulnesses?
Guy Martin: Well, in terms of pure news gathering information i can’t think of another medium that delivers a version of “reality” to an audience. Just look at how powerful the images of Abu Ghraib have become. Look at grainy footage from cell phones of the London 7/7 bombings. I would argue that those images have been instrumental in relaying information of an event. But images, at the moment at least are only 2D objects. They can’t possibly recreate or replay events to become objective depictions of a time and a place. Thats why its so important, that consumers of news and current affairs really pay attention to where and who their news is coming from. Who took that picture is just as important as the picture itself. In an age where we are surrounded by images, we must also move our understanding and visual knowledge along as well. We cannot cling to 20th century notions of truth within photography.
Landscape Stories: Every place or landscape is full of meanings and particular stories. What does it mean for you to photograph in Turkey, in the northern Iraq or in the Caucasus? What about your favourite places to take photographs? How do you think, in some way, this different cultures influenced your work?
Guy Martin: Ever since I graduated form University in 2006, the middle east and the caucus have been at the epicentre of world events. In a way i think starting out in the world at that stage, it was only natural to be fascinated by these areas. And i would say that its less about cultures, and more about the people that i have tried to spend time with when making work. I always try and attach myself to people my own age. I was always struck during the early days of the Arab revolutions that the people driving, protesting and organising the events were people my own age, in their mid twenty’s. It blew my mind. So its little things like that, that help me get into a huge story in a land, culture and language far away from my own.
Landscape Stories: You have some ideas you’d like to realize. How do you develop your projects? What is your methodological approach and intent?
Guy Martin: Bottom line, i try and focus on stories that other people are not doing. Well i try. I’m always going to be drawn to global stories on world events. I tried for several years to just focus on small stories in the UK, but i couldn’t do it. Maybe i just wasn’t ready, But even if i do decide to tackle a huge news story, then i really, really try to look for my own way into it. You have to find a way to get into a situation and not make work like the anyone else. Let me elaborate. Making personal work in big news events is harder than you might think. Often photographers travel in groups, for good reason. Its safer and reduces the cost. But how then do you find your own voice? Inevitably i found it was not only dictated by what in in front of you but also by the group of people you are with. So i always try and work on the peripheries of events. Developing stories always evolves over edits with friends and mentors. I’m really not so good at ending them to be honest, i never know when to stop. But one project that is coming out soon from the last two years in Bulgaria is something that I’m proud of. It was only meant to start off as a small weekend shoot. A photo itch i like to call it. Then it just blossomed into a love affair with the land and people of southern Bulgaria. And to be honest thats my method. I try something, if it works, i keep going and going and pushing and pushing, until someone tells you to stop.
Landscape Stories: Referring to City of Dreams… In october you will present an exhibition of it on Umbria World Fest. In your opinion why people are addicted to that kind of programs?
Guy Martin: Like many other photographers and journalists I moved to Istanbul because its geographic location put us in the heart of a dynamic, multi-layered and intensely visual region, with conflicts like the Syrian Civil War just a one-hour flight away. However, after my experiences covering the revolutions in Egypt and Libya in 2011, I neither felt the need nor desire to photograph that horrible, horrible war. To me, watching events unfold across the Middle East and North Africa over the past three years, it has become increasingly clear that these popular uprisings are turning into proxy wars orchestrated by countries in the region fighting one another for power, finding new alliances, re-establishing old ones and fortifying themselves against the great powers of the West and the United Nations. It fascinates me, now more than ever, thinking about issues of power and how as a photographer I can represent them. The outcome of a misuse or abuse of power is often street violence, war and death. But what is its origin? What if I could photograph something that spoke about how power is gained, maintained or lost? With that in mind I decided to take a rather unusual approach and document the world of Turkish soap operas. Though my initial reaction to the Gezi Park protests was not to photograph them because they didn’t seem relevant to my project, curiosity won out. The overriding feeling that struck me was their sheer theatricality. The romanticism, the flag waving, the smoke-laden skies, the Bosphorus mosques, the terrified tourists caught up in it all — everyone seemed to me to be a character. People’s reactions to me changed the moment I tried to photograph them: they played up to the camera, they picked up more stones to throw at police, waved more flags, etc. I’d seen it before, the very same behavior and body language in the early days of the Arab revolutions. Back then, I tried to avoid it and search for quieter moments, more “real” moments. This time, I just went with it, capturing the protestors as beautiful stars in all their exaggerated lighting and dashing, striking poses. Ultimately, I decided to start juxtaposing the images of the protests with the theatrical events of the soap operas. It became clear to me that they were all part of the same story. In combining the two projects, I hope that viewers of the work really question what they are looking at. At its base is a look at Turkey’s quest for power. The violence and fighting for Gezi Park certainly was a part of that; but so are the goings-on of the soap opera stages, which reveal themselves with striking visual similarity.
Landscape Stories: Tell us your strangest “landscape story”?
Guy Martin: Climbing outside and jumping to the balcony of a hotel bathroom window on the 12th floor after locking myself in and pulling the door handle off from the inside of the shower room. The hotel in question was in Benghazi, Libya at the height of the Libyan revolution in early 2011 with machine gun fire all around. If i hadn’t managed to get out of the window, i may well have still been there now. Needless to say, i was very naked. I dread to think of what any of the neighbours would have thought at seeing a naked Englishman climbing out of a hotel bathroom window and jumping to the next balcony.
Landscape Stories: Can you suggest us 3 photography books that you liked?
Guy Martin: Richard Mosse ‘INFRA’, Larry Sultan ‘The Valley’ and Ken Grant ‘No Pain whatsoever’.
Landscape Stories: What is your current project about?
Guy Martin: My current project is really just a development from ‘City of Dreams’ but much darker… Its a A multi layered observation into the icons, truth and lies of a a year in which the foundations of modern Turkey have been eroded by powerful, dark and unexplained forces. Interest rate lobbies, spies, the media, a not so secret civil war with the Kurds and dark politics with the Islamic State. A combustive mix of ideas, ideologies and identities that the Turkish state is desperately struggling to contain.
Interview curated by Gianpaolo Arena