Cade Martin (Instagram: @cademartinphoto), is an award-winning photographer specializing in portrait and location photography. Driven by belief that one must always look for beauty in the unfamiliar and propelled by his insatiable thirst for adventure, Martin has taken his camera around the globe. We spoke to the artist about his craft and his method.
FA: How did you begin your work as a photographer?
CM: The seeds were certainly planted early in my life. I grew up in an artistic community in Richmond, VA, surrounded by painters, sculptors, and printmakers, and I guess without realizing it, I received my visual education growing up. From a young age, I’ve always appreciated the way things appear and the way those visuals are composed. My parents dragged me to movies (good movies, bad movies, all movies) from the time I was small, and I internalized a ton from the range of cinematography — before I ever knew the word cinematography. I didn’t pick up a camera until I was 20 years old when I took that first basic photography course in college. I liked the class enough to take more classes, though I didn’t initially think of pursuing it as a career.
FA: Your work is varied— from portraits to conceptual. Can you describe the difference between the two and the similarities you see between both genres?
CM: My work ranges from highly realistic to fantastic. As a life-long cinema buff, I have always been amazed by the power that lighting gives to a given scene. I have drawn from my fascination with light in all of my work. I approach each project that I work on by studying the scenes and thinking about what type of lighting would make sense. From there, I work out how to elevate the lighting and ultimately use it to create the final mood and feel. I want the images to invoke curiosity about what was happening next, just beyond the captured scene. Each image is meant to feel like a captured moment in a story, not the whole story. That has an application no matter what the desired feel of the final image.
FA: Through your portraits, you have captured some fascinating people in very interesting ways. How do you find your subjects?
CM: My interest in photography is rooted in having creative adventures and spontaneity. There are so many stories to be told, so much character to be revealed in faces. My thirst for adventure and getting comfortable with the unknown took hold while hopping trains in India for National Geographic. As a result, when the inspiration hits, I’m always ready. I also learned that if you never move beyond your comfort zone and never scratch an itch, you’ll never find the beauty that lies in the unfamiliar. I continue to seek out surprise and delight, and I believe still that spontaneity is what brings adventure to life.
FA: Film and comics play an integral role in influencing your work. Are there any in particular that come to mind that you can tell us about, and how they’ve helped shape your projects?
CM: I was an only child, often escaping the adult world around me – getting lost in the tales and characters of comic books and movies, interested in not only who they were, but how they were revealed. Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, Bermuda Triangle, Lone Ranger, Tarzan, and Zorro—I find that all captivating and mysterious. These are the seeds planted by movies and comics; that was where I began to believe in the extraordinary. Stories, legends, and characters all inspire – one thing always leads to another, the kernel of one inspires and informs the next.
The characters in comics, movies, and fantasy have taken me everywhere–different countries, different worlds, in search of superheroes, secret identities, romance, war, and evil liars. And who doesn’t love an evil liar?
Colors, sights, sounds–different artists, different genres, nothing was too outlandish and anything was possible. The lack of boundaries in fairy tales is freeing and has been very inspirational. It would be difficult to name a project where the foundational influence of movies and comics isn’t a factor.
FA: While you have photographed some very ethereal, beautiful pieces, you’re also not afraid to shoot very realistic stories. Your series “Over War” captures the portraits of real-life war heroes. Tell me how this project came about?
CM: Kate Chase, my friend, former rep, and now a producer, is the grain of sand that turned this project into a pearl. Kate’s beloved uncle “Moose” was an Air Force pilot who had served in Vietnam and flew the F-105 as a Thunderchief. She heard from her mom that he would be attending a military reunion in San Antonio with other Thunderchiefs. Kate knew me as a photographer who chases characters and follows faces and suggested that I get myself there. So, two years ago, I found myself in a hotel room in San Antonio photographing fighter pilots who had served in Vietnam.
The aerial war in Vietnam isn’t often the war we learn about. It is not the grainy old footage we see. Their story is unsung, poorly known. As young men, they had a unique vantage point of the scope and reality of the Vietnam War as they flew over the conflict below.
I like to go to the source for these group portrait projects, embed myself in the space and community they share. There, we had set up in a rented conference room and pulled each pilot aside during breaks in their conversations. They didn’t say much to me. They didn’t have to; their faces said so much. As they talked to each other and then later through interviews, I heard the things said echoed in what I saw through my lens. They share pain indeed, a solemn recall, but also brotherhood, support, pride, and joy.
Over several days I observed and learned by watching how deep their stories run. Rather than asking questions, I listened and let my camera translate what was unsaid. It was an honor and an extraordinary experience to be a witness to and recorder of this gathering (more on the evolution of this project can be seen on Martin’s webpage).
FA: Is there one photo or project that you think most defines you as an artist?
CM: I’m my own worst critic, so I find things to nitpick in every photograph I’ve made. If pressed, I would say that my best works are photographs of my two children (they are not in my portfolio).
And even though I am proud of my body of work, it is the adventure that has always driven me – the crawling around, the actual act of making an image, and the promise and intrigue of what I can photograph next.