Martin’s work enthralled me. With beginnings in conflict photography and documenting war within the Middle East, specifically Libya when the conflict broke out there, Martin’s early work presents cold, harsh realities of death, of a life of complete survival.
Following a close encounter with death and a major physical trauma in 2011, Martin decided to move away from conflict photography, and later, moved to Turkey.
He tells us of moments of historical significance, where he was seeing social media start revolutions, civilians documenting their friends and families shot dead in front of them. He tells us of the hold that photography held over him, and the lack of power he had over photography.
After he had decided to move to Turkey, still expressing the fact he had something to say within his work, he grew fascinated with the idea of the ‘Deep State’, a uniquely Turkish phrase stemming from the 1950s, where there were units operating underground, trained in propaganda, bomb makers, basically, the bad guys. The government used this as an obvious enemy, it was useful to have such a strong presence to work against.
The next part of the talk almost lost me, as Martin starts talking about his work on Turkish soap opera sets. It seemed random, it didn’t match with anything he was saying before – why had he gone from such an extreme to something like soap opera sets? But as the talk went on; it was almost magical, the work started coming together in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
Turkish soap operas are the most highly viewed Tv shows watched, with 400 million viewers in over 140 different countries. The way the shows run is by turning the news in on themselves, working with highly fictionalised takes on current events; working with reality.
Martin’s perception of Turkey began to change, in these soap operas he was seeing representations of religions, prejudice, and this was powerful to view not only in Turkey, but across the world. But how could he still be saying he was shooting documentary when he was shooting film stills? The ultimate make believe… He tells us of taking photos immediately after ‘cut’ and before ‘action’, the rare seconds of transition.
Alongside this work within the sets and soap operas, Martin was also documenting reality, but as Turkey became more and more involved in conflict, more and more whispers about this ‘parallel state’ were starting to be believed, and the soap operas, politics and national propaganda was reflecting this. With more and more violence demonstrated, MArtin started a response within his work to counter this narrative of violence. Instead of documenting it first hand, suggestions of violence and power play are shown; bullet holes in walls, power cables ripped out of its box. ANd so Martin tells us of how much he begins to rely on the audience, how much we, as the viewer, have the power and knowledge to understand the connotations of violence, and hatred.
“If I wanted to talk about violence, would I have to show it?”
And slowly I started seeing how these two worlds were starting to merge, and come together. The ideas of cinema within our lives becomes so prevalent, life is cinematic when it comes to warfare, propaganda, deep-rooted political power. The idea of representation and perception are at play here, deeply ingrained in all of his work, showing just how important the entertainment world and screens are in a country with such a troubling underbelly as the ‘parallel state’.
It was at this point where Martin hands the power to us. He explains how the two worlds started to merge, the images he had taken 2/3 years ago were just as relevant, they started having power, and potency; they started becoming relevant to other bodies of work.
He explains how we as the viewers, have the power to decide which images come from the film sets, and which come from real life, how asking us this with the knowledge that we now have of the deep-rooted propaganda, changes our perception on how we read the images. Should we interrogate each image we see? Should we interrogate the photographer? Was Martin telling us the truth throughout his whole talk?
It was at this moment where I saw the genius in it all, and started seeing his images in a new light.
When looking through his images, I do struggle to distinguish between the truth and the fiction, so I start to look for telltale signs, but there is little to find. Little to scrutinise where differences are scarce.
I loved this talk. I feel that his passion and understanding of his work was so thorough, his research providing a completely new level of understanding to those who listened. In one part of the talk, Martin broke down a few of the stories behind certain images, and this was amazing, each image has a whole network of stories and deeper meanings.
This was just so inspiring, especially to me, who deep down wants to go into photography where voices get heard, and difficult times are raised; who knows, the future is so unknown.
All images from Guy Martin’s website, all information from his talk.