Moved by Images: An Interview with Oregon photographer David Martin

Updated: Oct 29, 2019

David Martin is an Oregon-based photographer, business owners and father (mine, to be clear). He has been snapping photos since he was a teenager and his passion for photography led him to create his business A View Askew Photography (no connection to the Kevin Smith movie studio).

He has done wedding shoots, nature photography, school photos, and many styles of modeling photography. He has a strict belief that his work should not be Photoshopped. As a result, other than lightening up a photo, changing the depth of shadows, or minor color changes, all of his work is how it looked straight from the camera.

His work as an artist inspired me to be confident in expressing my art regardless of who likes it or not.

We sat down with Martin and got an interview about his artistic inspirations and how photography has changed over his lifetime.

How long have you been taking photos?

On man, I probably picked up a camera for the first time when I was 10 or 11, somewhere in there.

You’ve spent most of your life in Oregon, at least the Pacific Northwest, and you are now 47, so you’ve been taking photos for about 37 years now?

Yeah I guess, when you put it that way. When you do the math, that’s a long time.

What is the first photograph you remember taking?

I was probably 16 or 17, I was down in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and I was just out walking around, I had my camera, I had just got it out of the shop. . .

Film?

Yeah, 35mm, that's all there was back then. I had just gotten it out of the shop, I was walking home, and I saw this cactus, and the sky, and everything. I stopped, thought it was a good excuse to test out my camera, took some pictures, and I don't know, I started doing different angles and something just took over, and I was just in it. I was there, in that moment just doing this thing, I think I shot half the roll on this stupid cactus.

When I got the pictures back, I was like, "Wow, there are two pictures here that blow me away." I just felt, I don’t want to say "moved," that seems a little deep, but it’s the only word I can think of. Like, I felt moved. This reaches out and touches me, and I felt I wanted to do this and give that feeling to other people.

So that is probably the first real solid memory. I remember when I was younger and taking pictures but every once in awhile, I felt like, “I just have to take this picture”.

I feel like when you are compelled to do something like that, then it is coming from some deeper place within you, like soul level or something like that. I just had to do it.

What was your dream in regards to photography when you were younger?

I wanted to be a photographer for National Geographic.

I remember looking at their magazines as a kid and going “these pictures are fucking amazing”. The places, and people, a lot of them are just candids of people -- just some old guy who looks like he is 103, sitting on some step feeding a puppy, or whatever.

Just the feeling you got from this picture on a piece of paper. You weren’t there, you didn't experience it but you are experiencing it through this medium, and I don’t know, I just like it a lot.

So that feeling I got from looking at those pictures, I felt I wanted to do this, I want to do this for this magazine. So yeah, that was my first dream, and then you know, of course that didn't happen. I still would like to submit some pictures to National Geographic one of these days, but I feel like nowadays it has to be. . . There are so many people with their smartphones and social media, I don't feel like it is that obtainable. Unless you have some epic picture.

I want to ask a question and then come back to this, but do you feel the medium of photography has changed drastically since the advent of the internet for you?

Yeah, I believe so.

Obviously, the switch to digital. . .

Well, digital was huge, I mean now you can take so many more pictures at a time that, I feel like, for me, the switch from film to digital was hard to do because I felt that I was going to lose that connection.

When you only have 35 or 30 pictures to take, you have to choose. You have to be like “Do I really want this shot? Hmm, I don’t know. Nope, I am going to wait.” So, you have to choose your pictures really carefully.

With digital, you can snap off 500 pictures and it doesn't matter and you can just go through them and delete the ones you don’t like and if you didn't get any good ones, it is whatever. I think that allows people with the internet to just post anything.

And then Photoshop, don’t even get me started on that. So yeah [the internet] has changed things, I feel like it is harder to get your stuff out there and have it seen because there are so many people putting stuff out there.

You have to really have either a gimmick or a following already, so someone who is just starting out or who hasn’t really been in the mainstream . . . who has been behind the scenes or just obscure and out there, it is harder to get out and get known -- if that is what your goal is.

That actually segues into my next question: You wanted to be a National Geographic photographer, how has that dream changed and what is your dream now that you are an adult and have been doing photography for awhile?

Well, I have had a lot of years to take pictures and figure out what I like and don’t like. I do not like doing weddings. I mean, I have done them but there is no enjoyment in it for me. Some people really enjoy doing weddings, they like being around weddings and the whole scene, I have found I do not.

I have done many kinds of photography, but I feel like what I like doing is different or odd modeling type pictures -- working with models to do things like that.

Nature. I really like nature with say, structures or bridges that may be there. But mainly waterfalls and stuff like that. I just really like nature, but if I had to do one combination it would be nature and modeling type photography.

I really like doing burlesque stuff, that was fun. Maybe more boudoir type pictures. I like helping people feel better about themselves.

You did

boudoir photography

for a few years and some pin-up work for awhile, correct?

Yes, I did. I feel like you get these people -- male or female, doesn’t matter -- and they have a view of themselves already. Negative or positive, they have a view of themselves. And most of the time it is not as positive of a view as they think they have.

So then you take these pictures of them and show them they are like “Wow, I look good!” It helps make them feel good about themselves: sexy, body positive, and I like that. It is like, “Hey you are pretty, I am not just saying that, look at this picture, it doesn’t lie.” And I feel that’s why I like it.

Doing family portraits, high school or senior photos, it can be fun depending on what they want but it doesn’t have that reaction that I like. That change from, “Ehh, I look OK,” to, “Damn I look good!"

What is your favorite thing to photograph?

I haven’t successfully gotten a good one, but a Milky Way photo.

A guy I know takes some amazing Milky Way photos. I mean, I love nature, it’s just you need to be out in the middle of nowhere (for zero light pollution), so there's that. And then just looking up and getting these amazing pictures of all the stars, you can see the galaxy, and you don’t need a telescope, and you’re not looking at some television show. So that would probably be my favorite.

How has photography changed in your lifetime?

Well, I guess the biggest thing is the move from film to digital. I hear nowadays people say, “Oh, I have these great film pictures,” and I kind of shake my head like, “Oh, we are going backwards now.” Like it is a lost art or something.

Like 8-bit video games. It was all you had back when I was younger, that's just what you dealt with, and then it progressed up and up, until now you have video games that are so realistic it’s like a movie. Well, that is what is was like going from film to digital. It was like 8-bit to HDMI.

So I find it a little funny, not so much “haha” (but) more peculiar, like people are purposefully going out and finding old film cameras so they can take film pictures and thinking it is the best thing ever. Which is great and I can totally understand, I took film pictures for years.

So you wouldn’t go back to film? Other than for the eclectic aspect, do you think digital is a better format for photography?

I think so, yeah. It is efficient. If you are trying to make money at it, it definitely helps your pocketbook. You’re not paying someone to develop your film, or paying huge amounts of money to have your own dark room. I remember developing film when I was younger, and it is a tedious process. It can be fun, but. . .

What or who would you say has had a major impact on your art?

Helmut (Newton). Very famous for doing risqué (or) not mainstream -- it was frowned upon. Naked women and lots of black and white photos.

Would you say mainstream artists -- let's say like Warhol -- did that do anything for you at the time?

Maybe, I have always been off the mainstream -- odd or weird or unknown stuff.

So establishment stuff didn’t really pique your interest?

Not really, except National Geographic. But they were putting things out there that you didn't really see. They were trying to show the world things you didn’t normally see: pictures of tribes in Australia or Africa, pictures of war-torn countries.

That was the thing, there was no internet. This was a, “Hey, look at the shit that is going on around the world.” It was a way to get out there and to see the world without traveling.

Would you say part of your enjoyment of photography may have been being a part of the world as it was happening then and there?

Yeah, I guess -- showing a different perspective, showing what people don’t really see.

I’ll go back to the old man sitting on the steps. You don’t know how old he is, he is just a wrinkled up old guy feeding a dog a piece of his bread. That could be the last bread the old man has got, he looks like he is poverty stricken, but here he is giving this starved dog half of his bread, and, wow!

The impact of that is amazing. I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to be able to show that to people. I don’t think I've been able to do that yet, but. . .

What advice would you offer a beginning photographer?

Just get out there and do it.

Don’t worry about the perfect shot, don’t worry about what people say. Not everyone is going to like what you are going to do. Not everyone is going to like what you think is good.

You may not be good at it. I mean, every picture may come out blurry the first few times. If you have never even picked up a camera, you're not going to know how to run it. But just get out there.

If you like nature, go for a walk in the forest and take some pictures. Lay on the ground, look around. I don’t know, do what feels right, I guess.

I didn’t go to school for photography -- I know a lot of people have. I have taken some classes here and there to see what it was like (and), I don’t want to say it didn’t help me -- I am sure it helped me in some respects -- but, it didn’t really help my photography.

I don’t want to say that I am a natural, but it just came to me. I just do what feels right. I don’t know why, I just picked it up and it felt instinctual and natural. So, if you feel compelled to be a photographer, just go do it. Don’t let people tell you you can't or that you are doing it wrong or you have to do it one way, just do it your own way.

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