BL&D Interview: Adrian Martinez
We sat down with our friend and accomplished photographer, Adrian Martinez, and talked about shooting with real film, family, expectations, and new beginnings.
BL&D: Adrian, thank you so much for coming.
Yeah, of course.
You are, what, a month away from graduating?
About a month and a half, yeah.
Are you excited about that? Nervous about that?
You’ve had a wild journey to get here, do you wanna share more about that?
Yeah, well…I didn’t want to go to college after high school. I was just trying to get working and I had no idea what I wanted to do, so my parents forced me to go to community college. Um, so I took, like, general study classes and I hadn’t declared a major, I had no idea what I was doing. So I wasted a whole semester, failed all my classes because it was just a waste of time for me. And…I just really didn’t like it. It was awful.
Yeah. Especially because you didn’t know what your interests were.
Yeah, exactly—I was taking English, math, things I didn’t really wanna take. So I did really bad my first semester. And then second semester, I took history of film class. And I had always liked movies, so that was really interesting to me, and then that same year I started shooting photos. I got a film camera and started shooting photos. I was there for another year, and then I decided that I wanted to be a photographer, but the community college didn’t provide that, so I transferred, and then…yeah, I really fell in love with photography and I hadn’t really looked at any other photographers…I didn’t know any of the history behind it. After two years, I transferred to U Hart last fall and I’ve been there for almost two years, and now I’m graduating.
That’s nice. Now you were telling me this pretty awesome story—would you mind sharing it here?
Which story is it?
This is the one about you and your mom—
Oh, the Goldfarb.
Yeah, jump right into the good stuff.
Yeah, so, every year at U Hart, they have an annual student exhibition. It’s called the Alexander A. Goldfarb Student Exhibition and, so, you have to get accepted into the show first of all. Someone picks all of the entries.
Is it like your body of work, or individual photographs?
It’s whatever two pieces you want to put in. So, you’re allowed two submissions and it’s available to anyone at U hart. So last year I tried to get in. This year I took two photos, one of my brother—well they’re both of my brother…so, I got accepted into the show, which, first of all, it was an honor to just be in the show. So I made my photos, submitted them and the day of the show came, and I went with my mom and, yeah, we were kind of just hanging around, looking at all of the work. We got a glass of wine, we were just chilling. I told my mom, “I just have two photos, it’s no big deal.” And she was like, “Oh, yeah.” So, yeah, we’re at the show and after a while they started calling everyones attention and they were like, “yeah, we’re gonna announce the winners now,” so, the first couple of winners were just honorable mentions, and two of them…yeah, there’s two of them…and one of them was another photo, and they got into the grand prize winners…the first one got called, and I was like “ok, like…alright, I didn’t get an honorable mention, I didn’t get this prize…I’m not gonna get the grand prize.” Um…I was like, “there’s no way.” and my moms like, “it’s alright, don’t worry…” and I was like, “no, it’s okay…it’s alright, I’m just happy to be here and I just have this gut feeling, I was really nervous, I was like shaking…” So then the dean of U Hart, of the Hartford arts school, um, started announcing the last prize, and she said, “this years grand prize goes to Adrian Martinez” and I just froze because no way, this isn’t even possible, and my mom was like “go, go get your prize!” and I was like “there’s no way i just won the grand prize.” and i started tearing up and my mom’s like “go, go.” I went up, and they handed me the envelope, and it was just crazy; everyone was clapping and cheering for me, and it was just unbelievable and like…they took a bunch of photos, and as soon as they were done I went to hug my mom and I was like crying and like—
When you told me this story, I wanted to cry—
Yeah, I cried more than my mom did. (laughs) Um…
I just love that story. One of the reasons I love it…as much as it would've been great for you, it must have been super great for your mom. I feel like parents always get satisfaction out of their kids doing great things. and there’s a lot of attention around students choosing art-paths, and having that not be seen as professional and important and relevant, hearing “why would you waste your time in college doing that?”, you got a moment when you could show your mom, and your victory was clear. Which is not always the case. I just love to hear—I wonder how, if like, you got a lot of resistance, but you took it upon yourself to do it anyway…I would just love to know more about that.
Yeah, well I don't know, what you said is definitely true, my parents have always supported me and they, you know, they like my work but they don’t know exactly what I’m doing.
Yeah, I mean it's pretty unique.
Yeah, so they're gonna tell me it’s great even if it's not. but the fact that someone else had gave me that uh, what's the word?
Yeah, validation. “Wow, my son really is talented.” And um…yeah, I don't know.
Fantastic. that’s really great. so you’re at U Hart now, but you grew up in Enfield…but you’ve always had a strong connection to Hartford, your parents have a restaurant here—what’s it like, sort of being in Hartford more and tell us about your relationship with Hartford historically and how it’s changed, like, in the past two or three years
Well, I would say, first of all, Hartford is a great city. My parents own a restaurant on Farmington Ave.
Great fish tacos.
They’ve been there for almost sixteen years now.
Yeah, so ever since they’ve opened the restaurant they would bring me and I would hang out at the restaurant, and I would never really go outside of that area, the west end. But I would hang out a lot there when I was younger. And I would always take the bus there from Enfield, to get to the restaurant. With my mom. And we drive down Farmington, past Mark Twain, past all of that… and I always wanted to live in one of those apartments, like off of Farmington. So when I was old enough, I moved to Hartford. Because I was working at the restaurant at the time, when I moved here. And…yeah so, I always wanted to live here since I was young and it wasn’t until I moved here that I started getting involved with everything that is going on, meeting people…it's been great. I’ve been here for almost three years now.
And it was just somewhere I always wanted to be. Especially growing up in Enfield, there’s not much going on there…there’s no art, or anything really that I was interested in. So being in Hartford has definitely been beneficial to me. There’s always something going on.
Yeah, I was actually just—we were meeting with, uh, the folks from Take magazine. And I was just sort of relating to them, like, the weird connections in our region. I was like, “yeah, I know these like awesome guys, who a lot of them are photographers from Enfield and Long Meadow, and they have this weird connection to North Hampton, and they come down to Hartford—so it’s like, there’s definitely this like string of culture, that kinda flows up and down the river—and it’s these bizarre pockets of people, with their own culture and their own interests…but you’ve like—in a lot of ways, you bring a lot of that stuff with you to Hartford, which I think is kind of awesome, and like—I feel like that’s often sort of the history that flows here. Just pockets of people, anchored from different places—
Like, what was it about? What things in Hartford did you like get excited about when you got here, and what were the things that, like, make you like Hartford? Now versus when you were the kid on a bus?
Like how has your perspective changed?
I guess when I first moved here, I realized how many creative people there were around me, like, immediately, and that energy just really motivates me because everyone is doing something, and I’ve already met designers, painters, performing artists, musicians, and writers—y’know? —
And that, like, just really, gives me energy, because everyone else is doing something and it really gives me…um, I don’t know how to explain it, it’s just like, it’s really good to be around because everyone is doing something and it makes me want to be doing something as well.
Yeah, and I think if you follow your photo stream, you get a sense of that energy…which you might not see, if you maybe weren’t like directly connected with it, but then you guys do things, like, you come together for things, like Sticky Pages—how did that start? I feel like that’s a great story of finding community, and collaborating with community.
Well, that just started off with other photographers that were doing the same thing as me. We were just going around shooting photos of just our lives and everything that we were seeing and we all wanted to start putting our work together. We started making zines which are photo books and we wanted to show our photos so we started doing shows. It was just a way for me to showcase more of my unseen work that doesn't get seen too often. It was a lot of fun. It was fun to hang out with them and talk about photography and to talk about music. Our life styles really came together.
What has you excited coming up? What should we be looking forward to?
I’m preparing for my senior exhibition. It's actually next week. That’s all I’ve been working on for the past year, pretty much, since the Fall. Yeah, I’ve been photographing my family. All of that work has been under wraps. I have not really been showing anyone. I am saving it for the show. I want people to come to see it in person because Im printing it all by hand in the dark room. I think that it's something that will be really great in person.
That sounds like a very personal project.
Yeah, it is a very personal project. I was photographing my family all year and then I made a breakthrough a couple weeks ago. I realized that it's really not just about my family but specifically my brother, myself and my dad. Kind of just the men in the family. So I am not done shooting it yet but I’m showing what I have for the show. There is a good amount of work I will have in the show but it's something that just started this year that I can see myself doing for years— watching my brother grow up through photographs. A photo I took today, he doesn't even look like the photos I took of him in the Fall. You can see how much he has grown already. So I am getting ready for that, that's next week and other than that, graduation is coming up and after that, maybe do some traveling this Summer. And then trying to work in the field.
It seems like photography is more popular than maybe it's ever been. What does that mean for photography in field and people who study it?
Well that's an interesting question because I feel like there is such an abundance of photography right now and social media is such a great way to showcase that or meet other photographers or other artists or anything like that. It's a great way to keep people updated on what you're doing and yeah I think people like to see it.
So you see it as a good thing and not as a bad thing?
I see it as a good and a bad thing because then there is such a flood of photography and not all of it's good. But Instagram just makes it so accessible so you have to filter out what's good photography and what's — I don't know. it's weird, there's a certain kind of look on Instagram which is fine for Instagram but beyond that I don't know where else it could get someone.
Will that affect photography in time?
I don't know, it's weird that iPhone photography is it's own genre. I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing but years from now we will look back on the start of iPhone photography as it's own thing.
There seems to be a resurgence of film photography because of the popularity of photography in general. Do you see that continuing?
I think film right now is bigger than it's ever been— everyone wants to shoot film, and that's great because then companies can stay in business which has been a huge issue. Companies still make film but discontinue certain films, but when people are buying it, they want to make it, and when people are shooting film, people want to develop it, so that's helpful for everyone.
Will film be the bastion for fine art photographers?
Film, right now, can be used in any way. people that aren't trying to be fine artists are using film. People who are just shooting for fun are using film. There are really no limits for people who are using film. I think it will definitely be around for a while and then there are places in Hartford that still develop it so there’s no issue here.
I think it would be great if it stayed physical at least, especially with like iPhones, you take a photo and you post it on Instagram and then that's it. People aren't printing photos as much as they used to. They're not permanent anymore. Part of what I am trying to do is make actual photographs. Those are objects, you know, so they can live digitally and in the real world.
Have you thought about looking for jobs?
I don’t really know yet, I hear about a lot of people working as assistants, or at a studio, or working with a professional photographer. I feel like there a lot of things I can do in my field and I feel like I have the skill set to do a lot— I have not started looking into it yet. I think it will be okay. I was looking at my resume the other day and I thought “wow this looks great”, I would hire me. And I got to put that Goldfarb award on there so that was great.
Interview by Jeff Devereux and Emily Dowden
Photography by Darcy Hughes unless otherwise noted