Photographer Coco Martin Talks About His Success in Opus Incarnate

June 12, 2013 By Ramon Nuez for Latinos Behind the Lens

I think that Coco Martin is an intellectual old soul. He sees photography as a process. A journey. Something that needs to be experienced first, before you create a capture. And that is a valuable lesson that can only be learned. Over time. And this is what makes us.You. A better photographer. Not the hardware or software or location or subject. But the experience. Your experience. Because your learned encounters become your many filters. And these perspectives will undoubtedly influence your capture.

The Interview

LBTL: You are an accomplished photographer. Your work has been exhibited at the First Biennial of Photography of Puerto Rico (1998), Second Biennial of Lima, Peru (2000), the Biennial of Photography of Quito, Ecuador (2001) and at the Organization of American States Museum in Washington, D.C. (2008). And the list exhibitions only gets longer. What is the secrete to your success as a photographer?

CM: Success in terms of appreciation is a relative collateral consequence of your photographic approach and might not be entirely in your hands. Indeed what is in your hands (and eyes) is your practice, your commitment to read and improve your own proposals and concepts, your willingness to experiment, fail, try it again and then succeed. I accept this as a natural scenario.

When you dare to challenge the status quo and compromise yourself to an artistic disagreement state of mind is when you will evolve. This is particularly important today, where the explosion of the digital era tends to convert everything into a banal or superficial object. Art history has been made of successful attempts to change the establishment, the processes and society. Hard work of course is a key. After finishing my architectural studies back in 1988, I naturally entered to the photographic field. I consider myself a self-taught photographer and started to teach in an alternative school of arts in my hometown Lima. I spent probably hundreds of hours in the dark room, I saw miles of prints and developed films, but that was just the beginning of a passionate journey.

LBTL: Opus Incarnate is considered by many in the photography space as your most ambitious work. What is it about this series and the scanographies that has brought so much attention to Opus Incarnate?

CM: At first might maybe it’s the technique I have implemented. But if you get close enough these are not actual photographs. This particular body of work represents the last three years of my practice in photography. After years working with medium format film cameras and digital gear, I felt the need to question myself.

What is the concept of what we call photography as a factual metaphor and what is in the mechanical act of capture itself? Through my scanographies, along with a temporal denial or refusal to use a regular photographic camera, I brought to my practice a new conceptual approach. By only using a flatbed scanner to capture skin’s model —there was no external lighting, nor lens or aperture to control— I discovered this so called ‘magic kingdom of a candle light’.

Besides the use of contemporary software this is also a artistic statement of pause in my career, a silent moment to take some distance from the overwhelming reality and get the chance to think about the source, the light, the eager attitude to really get someone’s soul, almost physic literally.

The result is photographic yes, but the meaning transcends what meets the eye. Let’s say it is an ironic testament of a postmodern portrait, both classic and contemporary. (See Dixit © 2012 enclosed in this interview)

I would like to place this series within the context of mass production of images due to democratization of the media and the arrival of the digital era. Despite the fact that each piece might take days to be composed and completed, this process took me back to rediscover the meaning of patience, precisely what I used to understand as a synonym of photography.While a photographer can produce thousands of images a day, this process took me back to produce one image every 10 days or even more. Modestly I think is a bold opposition to the immediacy.

Because of Opus Incarnate Series, I have been selected to be part of the International Summer School of Photography in Latvia, next August where I’ll be producing new series and sharing experiences with mostly European photographers. I will take this opportunity to shape my inner thoughts and concepts, since I believe that a creative community around you is very important.

LBTL:  As an artist. As a photographer. How has your vision evolved since the very first time you picked up a camera?
CM: Vision evolves in complicity with time and experience. I think my ideas and visions have indeed evolved but have not really changed. I was always interested in absences rather than presences; in creating a plot instead of re-creating a random interpretation of reality. My images become a valid voice when I go beyond my comfort zone.
The accuracy of an image depicting people and places that constitute a human life doesn’t exist. Everything is just an interpretation throughout our own filters. I became more eclectic in my main discourse, but at the same time I learned how to take some distance from my own work. Having said that I believe I am freer now than the first day I grabbed a camera.

LBTL: You explain that photography is like falling in-love. And each time we fall in-love we learn something —about ourselves. What have these photographic narratives taught you — about yourself

CM: I would say that has to do with the happiness I find while I am producing a new series of work. It’s not only about the joy or a specific narrative as it is about the process it self. It has to do with the discovery, the anxiety, the sweaty hands, the blurry vision, or the willingness to visually scrutinize something or somebody. I know myself much better now. I know more about my values, my limitations and boundaries. And going back to your first question,this has been a successful long-term relationship.

LBTL: When you are searching to photograph a new project/series what are the 3 most important elements?

CM: A new project has to come with intrigue and mystery, and (why not) with some level of conflict that entails open questions. It might be a political-artistic-social statement, or just a genuine curiosity or a personal story that hasn’t been discovered yet. A coherent technique going along with it may also help. For me is more important to imply or insinuate rather than say it out loud.

Call To Action

If there is a main takeaway from my interview with Coco it is — to grow. That means you, as an artist,must experience your surroundings and push outside the box. You must defy convention while respecting its roll. And how is this done you might be asking me? Start now. Start by simply observing. And allow yourself to be drawn to what draws you. But most importantly study those that came before you.