An Interview with Sandra McMartin
by Maggie Terlecki.
editor’s note: I have known Sandra now for about a 1 1/2 years. The moment I saw her photos, I just loved them. I found them very creative and romantic and I am so pleased she agreed to an interview to share insight into to who she is as a photographer and a person.
My philosophy regarding photography is to give myself permission to play, to view the world as a child would. To allow my mind to stretch to see things in a different way, architecture in a puddle, a portrait in a reflection, a subject shot from a different perspective, my duck
Even more important to me is my approach to photography. I prefer to shoot alone. If I am out in nature I like to slow down and let the environment show me where the picture is. If I am with others this is harder to do. The more you do this the easier it becomes for your mind to see the composition of the scene. Time disappears, I don’t even hear what is going on around me, I lose myself in the place. (oh, Sandra, I’m exactly like you… ha! I don’t particularly like to shoot with others.)
You take pictures of many different types, portrait, urban, landscape, nature etc., is there
any type of photography you don’t like to do, and if yes, why?
I struggle to find my voice in architecture. As I view myself as more of an artistic versus a documentary photographer, I have been exploring a way to find my voice in this category.
So it is not so much that I do not like it, I am open to it, just have not found a way to do it creatively.
I beg to disagree, viewers, just look at this wonderful piece:
Macro is another area that I have yet to explore. I have dabbled but haven’t jumped in. It is more technical and I tend to taking images that let me move around and hand hold. I do use a tripod, but only when I absolutely have to.
I know that I have particular things that I like to shoot over and over.. like benches and bicycles etc., Do you have a particular subject that keeps bringing you back to them shoot over and over?
And, of course, reflections, it does not matter the subject material, if it is a reflection, I am drawn to it. I am visiting my sister right now and I have been doing family portraits, but as reflections, in a mirror, or someone’s sunglasses… and they are not staged, but spontaneous, when I see it I try to grab the shot.
I’ve noticed several of you images with your daughter as your model; (She’s so beautiful, by the way). I assume she is your muse?
My daughter is my muse most definitely but I do shoot other models. There are a few pictures of another young lady that I shoot with named Alysha. I find that shooting in nature fills me up while doing portrait work drains me. It takes a lot of energy to be in tune with another human being. Also, photography is my artistic expression, so I have limited my model work to my daughter and a few others as I want the creative vision to be mine. I want to process the images the way I see them in my mind. My daughter gives me that freedom.
Also, I have no interest (at this point) in doing standard “head shot” type model photography.
I am not interested in doing commercial photography like weddings or family portraits. I want to explore my creativity and if someone wants to purchase my work as art that’s great, but I don’t want someone to tell me what they want me to shoot.
How do you decide on the concepts of image you do with her? Is it planned ahead of time etc.,
All of my model shoots are planned ahead. I get an idea and then scout the location and pull my props together.
I know that since about a year or so, you’ve had a few shows in galleries in your area. How has that experience been for you, both the seeing the work on a gallery wall and having strangers look at your work?
I print every image that I process and like. To me it is not real until it is printed. That tangible print is when it becomes an expression of my artistic vision. Having a gallery show is an extension of that process. I shoot a lot.
I like how the gallery process forces you to look at your work in more detail, to see connections, to find a theme in your work. I also like the feedback you get from others viewing our work. It has helped me grow and to have confidence to take risks. It has been some of my more extreme images that people have connected to. Because I am new to this and self-taught, the feedback I get from a gallery show helps me to take a step back from my work and see it without the emotion that you attach to it when taking the picture and processing it.
I read on your website that this year has been one of immense change in your life. Would you like to elaborate? How has it changed you and has it changed the way you do your photography or how you see the world.
A couple of immense changes happened within the last year. I am 52 this year. I have been an active mother for the last 30 years. My daughter graduated last June. Last year my husband of 20 plus years decided he wasn’t happy and moved out. For the first time in thirty years I was completely alone, and without any responsibilities.
Although devastating, it has allowed me to immerse myself completely in my craft. For the last three years I have been exploring the world of photography. But I have lived and breathed it for the last year. 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I have seen an exponential growth in my creativity and my finished work.
It would appear that you have taken a very difficult time in your life and instead of letting it cripple you, you’ve chosen to use it to look further into yourself and make your work stronger and more meaningful. I admire that.
I have noticed that although you do also process in b/w, many of your images have bright, punchy colors. What is your view on using color to express yourself?
I like this question. I have never noticed that a lot of my work is colorful. I have done a few images in black and white, mainly portraits of Katherine. It isn’t a conscious decision; I think it is more the subject material that I am drawn to. This is a question I am going to think about for a bit.
I‘ve also noticed that several of your images have processing that pushes them towards more of an illustrative quality.
From day one, people have asked me if my images are pictures of paintings.
My workflow is visual; I do not follow the rules that people from a film/darkroom background do.
I started not knowing what luminosity, levels, curves, contrast, hue, saturation meant. I just processed how I wanted it to look.
As I have grown and learned, I have just added to that process. I use many, many programs to process my images. I don’t usually want my finished image to look like a photograph. I want it to be that space between a photo and a painting.
The next step for me is to learn more about the printing process, and to learn to print on other surfaces than just photo paper.
Some of my favorite images of yours are the set of reflections: this one in particular is amazing!
Can you tell me a little about it? And what is it about reflections that compels you to take these
This is called “Lily Pond Reflections”. It was shot in January of 2012.
It was the reflection of a barren tree.
I liked how the lilies looked like leaves blowing in the wind.
A good friend was standing right beside me and could not see what I was seeing; it was funny to me as it jumped right out at me.
I loved that it was whimsical and even though it was winter it was like spring; leaves blowing in the wind.
I think I am drawn to reflections because they are often more interesting than the original subject. It is like a filter has been applied, faces are obscured, and the story gets changed.
I am always looking for a way to see the world in a different way and reflections are an interesting way of doing that.
This photograph is wonderful. I see you won an award for it. How do you get right on top of the bird like that?
Stand on a bridge, and then wait, and wait, and wait! One day I was on a bridge looking down at the ducks below. They were preening, and moving and creating ripples. It has been fun to take these types of images. It is never the same. Everything changes with the light.
A cloudy day produces images that are totally different than those taken in extreme sunlight. We don’t normally see the underside of a ducks beak or the shapes they create when viewed from a different perspective.
You have wonderful studio shots of body painting. Can you tell us how this came about and what the experience was like?
I belong to a number of Model Photography groups. It was through these that I have made some great contacts. I was invited to an event put on by Dutch Bihary; he is a well-known and respected body artist. He is usually working to a clock and wanted to take as much time as he wanted to paint. A number of other body paint artists also attended. It was a fantastic and unique opportunity. I thoroughly enjoyed the black light part and hope I get a chance to do more.
Again I was lucky with where I am personally in my life. Dutch didn’t finish the final model until close to midnight. All the other photographers had left but as I have no responsibilities, I could just stay. The model was fantastic and just inhabited her body as Dutch had painted her. It was so interesting to watch an artist take such time to create a piece of art that would be washed off within hours.
It is a theme I am drawn to over and over again. The nature of why we do art. For ourselves? Or others? Vivian Maier was a photographer who was recently discovered, who seems to have taken pictures just for herself.
Graffiti art also draws me in for the same reason.
Portraits! I love looking at your portraits. They feel so personal, romantic and evocative. Can you tell us a bit about how you approach in your shoots and with your models.
I am glad you feel that way. Shooting a model feels very personal to me as well. I truly try to slow down, connect with the model and get a shoot that captures that fleeting second where they are their true selves. I have read fashion magazines my whole life and I think that has shaped the way I see portraiture; a story that needs to be told in one picture.
How important would you say that fantasy and imagination are to understanding and appreciating your photography?
Not everyone likes my work, and I am okay with that. I always say I am not interested in taking a photograph. If I could paint I would.
I really strive to be in that space between a photograph and a painting. So if you are a purist , and admire a great photo that is taken straight out of a camera my images will hold no appeal to you. If you look at my work as an art form and not a photograph then you will have more of a chance understanding it.
I also know that you are captivated by graffiti artists. Tell us why?
I think I am a bit naïve in my love of graffiti artists. I see them as this altruist group of artists that are more interested in the process than in leaving a legacy. I choose to cling to this belief, that their imagery is more about their art than their ego. They work in such extreme conditions, on surfaces that are so challenging, concrete, stucco, and in areas that may not even be visited.
My first foray took me to this back alley in Gastown. The only people who really go there are drug addicts and the homeless. People were peeing on the art; the ground was cluttered with garbage. And the sides of the buildings were covered in this amazing art. The colors and the social commentary it conveyed blew me away.
They may spend hours on a painting to have it painted over within hours of them completing it. There is the chance that no one may see it. So yes, like the body painting artists, they intrigue me. How many great books, songs, paintings, and photographs are there that may never be discovered.
Besides, photography, do you have any other hobbies or passions.
Music has been a major part of my life. Every season of my life has a song, or an album. I also love being outdoors, snowshoeing or hiking.
Since music is such a big part of your life, does it influence your photography in any way?
I process all my images while listening to music… headphones on, glass of wine. Music is an emotion to me, and that is what I strive for with my images; to invoke an emotion. To capture the emotion of light in a forest, the emotion in the eyes, The emotion of joy, sorrow, awe… that is what music captures. So yes, it has influenced my photography in a big way; to look at life with emotion. The awe of nature, the beauty of a flower in spring, and also in winter, that is what pulls me in, to try to portray those fleeting seconds where my mind sees the emotion in a scene.
Do you have any advice for young photogs attempting to bring their photography to new levels?
Take as many pictures as you can. Join on-line groups that have daily/weekly themes. Join a local photo club. The more pictures you can take, the more you will learn.
Sandra, I believe you give post-processing courses. Is this a weekly thing? or master classes given as workshops. Could you give us more specifics?
I have been mainly teaching at a local photo club. People seem to be interested in my post-processing workflow. So I am slowly developing a series of workshops called “CreativeEditing” where I share the different programs that I use to achieve some of my more artistic effects.
I also have my own style in using Proshow Producer. I have taught a number of workshops, again more on my process than on how to use the program.
What do you think your photography says about you?
I hope it shows the world that I am in awe of nature, its beauty, power and healing powers. That I am interested in life, the people and their stories. That I look to see the world in a different and unique way.
Do you have one favorite photograph?
My favorite photograph is of my daughter Katherine. To me, it represents everything I strive for in a photograph.
What is your favorite time of day to shoot?
I am not an early morning person. So any time after ten… that’s why I love winter; the day starts later… lol
If you could ask the next photographer I interview a question, what would it be?
Who do you shoot for?
Thank you, Sandra, for this great interview. I thoroughly enjoyed it. You are such a wonderfully talented photographer and a woman with a very generous spirit.
Please visit her website here: Sandra McMartin
An interview with Sandra McMartin by Maggie Terlecki is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.