Claire Martin: Change through Photography

Claire Martin uses photography as a tool to promote change by exploring the stories of people in marginalised societies and situations. fluoro spoke to the Australian photographer about the narratives within her work.

Martin originally began to study social work before realising that it was photography that was where her true interest fell. Since 2007 Martin has immersed herself in the medium, travelling around the world to capture her subjects.

Martin’s work takes on a social focus and has seen her spend time in challenging and unique environments. Spending six weeks in California’s Slab City, Martin was able to establish connections with its residents and capture an angle that may not have been possible otherwise. Her work holds a common theme of focusing on the marginalised, often challenging to the viewer as it brings the focus to members of society who are often overlooked.

(f) Tell us more about the moment you realised photography had the power to change.

(CM) I volunteered as an elective in my last year of university at a festival in Perth (Australia) called Foto Freo. A lot of the restaurants in Fremantle, Australia participate by hanging exhibitions. A guy called Philip Blenkinsop was exhibiting his work on the Hmong ethnic minority in Vietnam. The Hmong sided with the US army during the war because of a vacuous promise that they would be cared for after it was over. Consequently after the war they were forgotten by the US and marginalised by their own country, forced to live in hiding for fear of retribution.

Blenkinsop’s work had been awarded a world press photo first prize the previous year, and was incredibly confronting and uncomfortable to look at. I think seeing it in the restaurant setting, and not in a newspaper made a difference somehow. I commend the restaurant for it’s brave decision, to confront its customers in this way. Something about the work, the story and the environment I saw it in, just made something click for me.

(f) Are you stimulated to take photographs of the marginalised for the same reasons you pursued social work?

(CM) Definitely. Since I was a teenager I’ve cared about social justice, and understood my privileged position in the world. My Dad was a doctor and when I was a baby we lived in the highlands of New Guinea where he ran a medical practice. I think that he instilled this way of thinking in me. Also since I was a young adult I’ve experienced mental illness and addiction, and have witnessed the social isolation and mental/physical consequences of these problems within my extended family.

(f) What affect does spending time in environments such as ‘Slab City’ have on you and your work?

(CM) The more time you spend the better the work will be. I don’t really see a way around that. The more pictures you take, the more work you have to edit, the stronger the links you can make in the editing process. Sometimes all the images happen in a week, even if you spend four weeks in the environment. It can be like the universe just turns it on for you. Giving things time, if you’ve got it, just helps. There are no two ways about it for me.

(f) What stories are you next hoping to tell?

(CM) I’ve been working on a massive project for the last two years called Danube Revisited: The Inge Morath Truck. It is an epic journey along the length of the Danube River, in Central and Eastern Europe from the Black Forrest in Germany to the Black Sea with nine female photographers, three kids, a trail of local photographers, photo forums, night projections, and a 7.5 tonne truck – converted into a gallery.

The project highlights women in photography, history and the female perspective, and also facilitates women with young families to continue to produce work.

Click here to follow the project and amazing women involved.

Martin is speaking at Semi Permanent in Sydney, Australia. The event takes place from Thursday 22 – Saturday 24 May and includes exhibitions, screenings and a talk series. Martin will speak alongside a selection of prominent creatives from around the globe.

Connect with fluoro to stay informed directly from the event via Facebook, Instagram (@fluoro_Official) and Twitter.

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