Wednesday, July 23, 2014

In Conversation: Martin Smith

Martin Smith is an Australian photographer who combines words and images to explore family, memory, loss and identity. He is currently a doctoral candidate at Griffith University and teaches in the photographic department at the Queensland College of Art/Griffith University. His works have been exhibited internationally at the Hong Kong Art Fair, Photo Paris, Hous Projects in New York and Photo LA. In Australia he has exhibited at the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney and the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane.

SMITH, Martin, Untitled No. 3 (2008), pigment print and collage, 100 x 80 cm, Courtesy of the artist and Sophie Gannon Gallery.

Tell us about yourself, where are you from?
I am born and bred in Brisbane. I lived in the bayside suburbs and went to local Catholic schools that didn't have art as a subject, the only nod to the arts was Film and TV which fueled my interest in photography. I had quite a sleepy upbringing. Fun and supportive but mundane.

I am married have three kids and work as an associate lecturer in photography at the Queensland College of Art. I am currently also trying to complete my PhD in photography and narrative.

How would you describe your work? What materials do you use?
My work is combines text and image to try and forge new meanings. I write personal narratives then hand-cut the text into my photographic images. I am interested in how two narrative mediums (text and image) can create new layers of meaning especially when they don't illustrate each other ie the text has not direct connection to the image. I am also interested in the way narrative is used to define identity to the point where we are described more in story form than physically.

What’s your favourite word? What does it mean and why do you like it?
I don't necessarily have a favourite word but I love it when words or phrases are re-contextualised. A great example from my life was when my father changed 'f*** off' to being a unit of measurement.

"Martin can you pass me the wrench?"

"Which wrench?"

"The f*** off one"

"Oh...that one"

If you could collaborate with any other artist, who would it be and why?
Bruce Springsteen as he is my favourite narrative song writer. I wrote to him once to try and use the lyrics from Born to Run in an artwork but was denied. It was the record company not Bruce but it still hurt. I wrote to Nick Cave to use the words from "There she goes my beautiful world" in an artwork and after two weeks of emails and assurances they finally gave me permission. Because I was emailing the record company my final email asked whether Nick Cave knew about any of this correspondence and the answer was;


Nick Cave knows everything.


What inspires you?
I read a lot of short personal narrative authors like David Sedaris. I subscribe to The Moth and This American Life. I also subscribe to The New Yorker as the editorial writing is fantastic and they write in depth articles on everything. I enjoy the way humans interpret events and places and the way memory is formed and told. Also the relationship between the photograph and the event and how the two mediums converge to represent experience.

When you’re creating art, do you listen to music or work in silence? If so, what is the soundtrack to your creativity?
I listen to the radio; either music, talk back (if I don't get too angry) and cricket when it's on. I also listen to podcasts of many different types and audio books. Depending on mood I will also choose albums to listen to as it is a chance to have a block of time to listen to albums that require the that space. My work is laborious to create but allows me time to think and listen to ideas that interest me.

What do you think people will take away from seeing your work?
I have never been able to answer this question. I'm not sure...there is what I hope people take away and the reality and I'm too scared to know the truth, I can't handle it.

Where can people find out more about your work?
I am lucky to be represented in Melbourne by Sophie Gannon Gallery and I am showing with her next year. In Brisbane I am represented by Ryan Renshaw Gallery and you can go onto my web-site to see my stand up comedy at

What’s next for you, any big projects coming up?
I am taking some time to write my exegesis which sounds dull but necessary. My work has been included in the Dong Gang International Photo Festival in South Korea, it launches next week and I have a show with Sophie Gannon next year. I just finished an exhibition of new work at Ryan Renshaw in Brissy as well. It has been a hectic few but I need a nap.

What is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring artist?
I always tell my students that it is about being involved. Involved in your work and the ideas that make it interesting and cultivate your interests, have the aspect of human endeavour that you're the expert on. Involved in the community and involved in your own existence. It is a great thrill when you are asked to share your thoughts, gags, process and philosophy with the general public.

SMITH, Martin, Fix it up (2010), pigment print and collage, 90 x 180 cm, Courtesy of the artist and Sophie Gannon Gallery.

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