Eye for detail

James Martin

Photo By Larry Dalton

Davis-based photographer James Martin, 28, studied English lit and political science in college in Colorado, but, he said, “I didn’t really have a specific intention with that major.” After landing in the Bay Area a few years ago, and being laid off from a video-file-sharing dot-com startup, Martin slid his résumé under a photo-studio garage door and got a job as the studio’s manager. He was on to something.

Later, he moved to Davis and worked as a Sacramento photographer’s assistant. “I got to work in a bunch of different processes,” he said. “And I built my skills.”

Martin’s growing portfolio includes food photography, a project for the California Earthquake Authority and, most recently, coordinating the production of KRXQ 98 Rock’s 2006 “Bod Squad” calendar. He also edited a video called The UC Davis Campus Food Sustainability Project 2005 and works for the Elk Grove Citizen, a community newspaper. Obviously, diversification has agreed with him. Check out his work at www.jmmartin.biz.

Do you have any specific role models?

I do spend time looking over fashion photography, but my style’s really heavy on design, and line and form and color, that I guess stems more from an influence of film and cinema. I was always into photography, but it’s more about design. I do think about people like Richard Avedon, Man Ray. I really like that old kind of pinup stuff. But I don’t try to emulate anybody in particular.

What’s going on in Elk Grove?

There’s lots of houses being built. Elk Grove is just totally exploding. There’s definitely conflict between the rural history of it and the suburban sprawl that’s kind of attacking it right now. They’re widening country roads into these huge roads that can handle the thousands of houses that are coming in.

In what ways does working in community journalism help you artistically?

I’ve definitely noticed that there are all kinds of different ways you can handle photography. I have a very solid background in studio photography, where you can control the elements. A lot of times in journalism, you can’t control any of the elements. You can think in the terms that I was trained in, but you’ve got to do it faster and be more flexible. I had been concerned about it not being exciting, but for me it’s good. It forces me to put more effort in, to learn more about my style, to get something that I find interesting out of what at first might seem like a mundane subject. It’s very good because it’s so different from the commercial work that I’m doing. They’re really open and pretty much give me free rein to do what I want. I can put more art into the paper, which I think is a good urban aspect of the community growth.

What was it like working on the “Bod Squad” calendar?

That was really fun. It was a big project. I handled all of the production coordination for that. Really intense. Shooting took about three weeks, but the whole production beforehand took another solid month of my time. It’s hectic, but it’s great. That’s probably the biggest thing that I have coordinated. There was a release party a couple months ago; all the models were there. And it came out great. These girls, they weren’t professional models.

Where did they come from?

It was just girls at bars who got up onstage and shook their tits around, and guys clapped. I think. I wasn’t there. Anyway, they all have day jobs. They don’t know how the process works. Models are essentially paid to do what you say. I pretty much brainstormed all the set themes, found all the props, did all the legwork. I would do all those things, and the girl would say, “You know, I don’t want to be the racecar girl.” Because they’re not professionals, I don’t want to just say, “That’s too bad.” I tried to be accommodating. But that’s one of the things I love about assisting on a big shoot, actually. It’s very different all the time. Sometimes we’re dealing with these girls, and sometimes I’m shooting food. Every day is different.

It’s not just about photography now. It’s multimedia. Has technology changed the way you work?

From a commercial standpoint, everybody wants their stuff now. Or yesterday! But digital is great because it allows me to have more contact with my work. I don’t have to send it out to be done with it. I don’t need to have a darkroom. I pretty much have my fingers in the whole thing from beginning to end. I definitely still try to be around video, but my focus is on still photography right now.

Where would you like to be in 10 years?

I really like trying to be as much freelance as I can. I like the freedom of that—the freedom from having to go sit in an office all day but also the artistic freedom. But, of course, it’s nice to have the stability. … I could see myself as a video editor, or a journalist, full time. Since I’ve been to California, I’ve moved around a lot. But I’ve been around here for a couple of years. … I can see myself sticking around here for a while.