"The natural world is my overall inspiration. Geology and art inspire me to experiment and produce work emphasizing the art in science (or the science in art)."
Tell us about yourself and background. I am from Seattle, WA, and currently live in Southern California with my wife and 3-year-old son. I finished my MFA in Photography through the Savannah College of Art and Design during 2017. I also earned my M.S. in Geology during 1994 at the University of New Orleans, and B.S. in Geology during 1991 at Central Washington University (in Washington State). For the past 14 years I have worked as a geology professor at a community college in Southern California. Prior to that I worked federal government jobs and as a photojournalist in Southern California. Tell us about your work. For my MFA thesis work, I created images using two of the oldest photographic printing methods: salt prints and cyanotypes. I aimed to show the intersection of science and art; the balance of chemicals, water and light that are central to both photography and the sustenance of life. The subject for my thesis work is the Salton Sea, California’s largest lake that is degrading and evaporating away from drought, water transfers and neglect. I strive to capture the beauty and complexity of this place-its fleeting moments and the traces of accelerated entropy-to show what is lost to time. The salt prints reference preservation, and the process itself is a literal nod to the chemical composition of the sea and signifies its remains or trace as evaporation lowers sea level and exposes crystalline shorelines. Unpredictable spotting signifies deterioration from the human touch* and links the sea to the lab and art to science. The cyanotype photograms (showing, for example, bones and feathers of dead birds and fish that litter the shoreline) document trace “fossils” and reveal blueprints that function as visual remainders. For my most recent work I create very large (Giclee) prints- some 15-20 feet wide- using a 36 megapixel Nikon D810 to create panoramas with excellent detail, and stitch them together with Photoshop. The dominant subject of these prints is landscapes/seascapes. Prior to my MFA work, I created many images while working as a photojournalist. I used a mixture of film and digital cameras, traditional darkroom and Photoshop methods, to complete my assignments. In general, my work is about investigating the natural world for its beauty and meaning in our lives.*The Salton Sea is a mistake, formed when a levy burst along the Colorado River over 100 years ago.
What makes your work and approach unique? For my MFA work, it’s an approach used by the first photographers who found a way to fix an image on paper and create the first negatives; it is uncommon for photographers to use these methods today. In a world saturated with images from a wide variety of devices, I take a few steps back to the darkroom, and to camera-less prints when I make photograms. There is satisfaction in being involved in every step of the process to create a very unique print. While I do create digital negatives, there is technique involved in creating the optimum contrast/density of these negatives for the “printing-out” process. I brush the chemicals such as salt solution and silver nitrate on watercolour paper and together with the digital negative, expose it to sunlight and burn in the image that is then developed and fixed in the darkroom for a print. Also for my MFA work and current work I create very large (Giclee) prints as described above. My approach is one of investigation and inquiry; passion and inspiration; science and art: I observe and sometimes intervene with natural processes and features, and nature will reveal itself and do everything but push the shutter of my next photograph.
Why is your work a good investment? The process to create salt prints and cyanotypes produce nice archival quality prints that create a historical or nostalgic quality whether the print is made today or is a couple centuries old (I can apply these methods to a client’s digital images if requested although the quality would depend on the original image and file size). The large Giclee prints, including panoramas, are very detailed and excellent archival quality. While the Giclee/digital and film prints are relatively easy to reproduce (but can be limited to a series), the salt prints/cyanotypes are one of a kind. Tell us about some of your achievements. Completed my MFA in Photography, 2017 (Savannah College of Art and Design); thesis show at a gallery (Tiendique) in El Centro, Ca (2017); exhibition during 2018 at the Juanita Salazar Lowe Art Gallery, Imperial Valley College, Imperial CA; Showed work during 2016 at the Maryland Federation of Art Circle Gallery. For my work as a photojournalist, several images were published in magazines and major newspapers (such as Popular Science; Christian Science Monitor and Los Angeles Times). Many images picked up on the Associated Press wire and used by media.
What are your sources of inspiration? The landscape photography of Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell were my early inspiration. Later, and through my MFA work, I became inspired by the Earth Art Movement and conceptual photography of the 60s and 70s. The Earth art, for example, of Robert Smithson, Michael Heizer and Andy Goldsworthy- I love their style of intervening with nature, or recreating it for their idea of how is should or could be. My cyanotype work is inspired by the work of Botanist Anna Atkins. I am also inspired by the work of Susan Derges who creates photograms of river water (by submerging the printing paper). The natural world is my overall inspiration. Geology and art inspire me to experiment and produce work emphasizing the art in science (or the science in art). Landscapes/ seascapes have their natural beauty from the interactions of solids, liquids and gases through forces of continual change. The consequences of these forces, such as mountains and weather, are captured at various moments of construction and destruction; of renewal and entropy. I am inspired to investigate this with my camera and inquire into the meaning of these moments for a better understanding of our world.
What you are passionate about? I am passionate about hiking, backpacking, and the light of storms; the struggle at the Salton Sea, hidden lakes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the desolation of Death Valley and tectonics of the Pacific Northwest. I like the view from the trail and backroads. I am not an environmentalist per se, but believe in many environmental causes and preservation of national parks. I also believe in altering the land- scape through the Earth work interventions of artists such as Smithson, Heizer and Goldsworthy; and through the science of mining to extract energy and mineral resources while exposing episodes of the Earth’s history. I am also passionate about social programs in place to help people; that everyone is equal and should be treated that way.
Share with us your upcoming projects. I am continuing my work on creating very large prints using panoramic techniques on a variety of themes, mostly related to nature.
Tell us about where you are based. I am currently based in Imperial Valley, CA, about 100 miles east of San Diego, Ca., and in the rain shadow of the Peninsular Ranges. The latitude and mountains create a harsh desert environment where temperatures are over 100 degrees for several months of the year. Features here include California’s largest lake (the Salton Sea); the Imperial Sand Dunes (the location of much filming); numerous desert ranges; a large gold mine and geothermal plants. Southern California’s light can be amazing! Website: kevinmartyphotography.artspan.com