Interview with Martin Usborne, Photographer
Recently, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Martin Usborne, a photographer and animal lover who resides in London with his wife and dogs. One of Martin’s interests includes man’s relationship to animals. Martin has been regularly featured in international magazines and his work has been seen in group and solo exhibitions around the world, along with publishing several books. Last year I interviewed Martin about his important project, A Year to Help. I truly enjoy Martin’s work, and I am sure that you will too!
KATHERINE CARVER: What were your beginnings as a photographer and when did you realize it would become your chosen form of expression?
MARTIN USBORNE: I started photographing professionally in my thirty’s but I had been taking photos for many years prior. I was working in children’s television when I got made redundant and so I went traveling for six months. I took a canon 10D and a laptop and loved taking pictures so much that I started out as a portrait photographer. I think, however, it was seeing the work of Bill Brandt that persuaded me to go professional.
KATHERINE CARVER: Did you study art formally?
MARTIN USBORNE: I went to Glasgow School of Art but studied 3D animation. I was meant to get a job working on the first Ice Age movie but there were visa problems! I ended up working in children’s television.
KATHERINE CARVER: How do you describe your style?
MARTIN USBORNE: Fairly psychologically intense but hopefully laced with humour every now and then.
KATHERINE CARVER: Can you describe the time when you first realized that creating photographs was absolutely something that you had to do?
MARTIN USBORNE: I think I realised in my late twenties I had to be creative. I don’t think it has to be photographs. If the camera didn’t exist, there would be other ways to find expression!
KATHERINE CARVER: What was the impetus that inspired you to begin photographing dogs?
MARTIN USBORNE: I’ve loved dogs since I was a kid. Adored them. I have two now and always will have dogs. I’m also interested in the way we treat animals so dogs were an obvious way in.
KATHERINE CARVER: How have your own dogs influenced your artwork?
MARTIN USBORNE: I made a book about my dog Moose (My Name is Moose), which was my first ever photo book. But other than that these images are kind of too cute to feature in my work, which tends to be a bit more serious.
KATHERINE CARVER: Where did the idea come from for your work entitled, “Dogs in cars”?
MARTIN USBORNE: I was once left in a car at a young age. I don’t know when or where or for how long, possibly at the age of four, perhaps outside a supermarket, probably for fifteen minutes only. The details don’t matter. The point is that I wondered if anyone would come back. The fear I felt was strong: in a child’s mind it is possible to be alone forever.
Around the same age I began to feel a deep affinity with animals – in particular their plight at the hands of humans. I saw a TV documentary that included footage of a dog being put in a plastic bag and being kicked. What appalled me most was that the dog could not speak back.
I should say that I was a well-loved child and never abandoned and yet it is clear that both these experiences arose from the same place deep inside me: a fear of being alone and unheard.
When I started this project I knew the photos would be dark. In a sense, I was attempting to go back inside my car, to re-experience what I couldn’t bear as a child. What I didn’t expect was to see so many subtle reactions by the dogs: some sad, some expectant, some angry, some dejected. It was as if upon opening up a box of grey-coloured pencils I was surprised to see so many shades inside.
There is life in the darkest places inside us.
KATHERINE CARVER: Where did the idea come from for your work entitled, “Nice to meet you”?
MARTIN USBORNE: I remember meeting a stranger on a sunny day whilst I was suffering from depression.
‘Nice to meet you, how are you?’, said the stranger.
‘I’m fine’, I replied.
I wanted to howl.
What happens to those raw, painful parts of ourselves we hide away? The anger, confusion, uncertainty, hope? And what strategies do we use to hide these parts of ourselves? Politeness, arrogance, speed, disinterest?
Each image in this series is a portrait of a dog photographed through a material or substance: a wet pane of glass, faint smoke, dense material, bleeding light. Nearly all of the dogs are abandoned, untrained, often aggressive. One is a wolf. (Every dog was carefully handled and protected in the process). The images are titled with everyday phrases that so often hide subtexts.
As with the previous series, The Silence of Dogs in Cars, canines are used here to reflect that unspoken, instinctive side of our nature. In my own experience it is dogs – along with some other animals – that have the ability to communicate certain feelings most directly even though they have no words.
But the series is also about the voicelessness of animals, about their hidden pains and silent needs that to many people are not so apparent.
KATHERINE CARVER: Where do you show/exhibit your work?
MARTIN USBORNE: I’ve show in London, LA, NY, Sao Paolo, and Paris. A lot of my work ends up in magazines too.
KATHERINE CARVER: What does “being creative” mean to you?
MARTIN USBORNE: It means expressing yourself in the most natural and elegant way possible. Not always easy but rewarding. It’s a bit like breathing very deeply. You breathe in the world, taking in ideas, experience and inspiration, and then you breathe out those same ideas, experiences and inspiration but they are fused with something of your deeper core. You can only hope you don’t have smelly breath.
KATHERINE CARVER: What is the most challenging aspect of being a photographer?
MARTIN USBORNE: Making the money while doing your own work.
KATHERINE CARVER: What inspires you to keep going and what keeps you motivated?
MARTIN USBORNE: Seeing books and exhibitions of my work finished!
KATHERINE CARVER: What are the most rewarding and satisfying part about being an artist and creating art?
MARTIN USBORNE: Being true to yourself.
KATHERINE CARVER: What kind of patterns, rituals, and routines do you have while making your art?
MARTIN USBORNE: Actually just doing it. If you wait for inspiration it doesn’t come.
KATHERINE CARVER: What are you working on now?
MARTIN USBORNE: A book about Spanish Hunting dogs…More to be announced soon.
KATHERINE CARVER: What artists inspire your work?
MARTIN USBORNE: Bill Brandt, Todd Hido, and Edward Hopper.
KATHERINE CARVER: What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
MARTIN USBORNE: It’s hard work but, if you have to do it, very rewarding. Go for it. But be prepared to be your own engine. You don’t have anyone else pushing you and you have to often deal with self-doubt.
KATHERINE CARVER: How can people view and purchase your art works?
MARTIN USBORNE: Look at my website, www.martinusborne.com, and get in contact!
All images contained in this blog post are courtesy of Martin Usborne.