Interview with Martin Usborne, Photographer, Writer, and Animal Lover
Interview with Martin Usborne, Photographer, Writer, and Animal Lover
Recently, I had the great honor and privilege of interviewing Martin Usborne, a photographer, writer, and animal lover who works and resides in London with his wife, Ann, and their miniture schnauzer, Moose. Martin was trained in architecture, then philosophy, then psychology, then three-dimensional animation before checking his compass once more and finally settling on photography. Martin’s current work consists mainly of portraits, both human and animal. Martin’s key interest is man’s relationship to animals. Martin has been regularly featured in international magazines and has been seen in group and solo shows around the world as well as in the National Portrait Gallery London. He has had four books published.
Martin is currently spending a year to see how many animals he can save in 365 days, a project entitled, A Year to Help. Martin has sent himself out into the world to give back to the very subjects that have given him such artistic inspiration. Over the course of 365 days, he will try to save or help as many animals as he can while documenting each step. This is a wonderful, fascinating, and inspiring project, which is discussed in more detail below.
KATHERINE CARVER: How did you devise the idea for your project, “A Year to Help”?
MARTIN USBORNE: Well, I feel very much like a failed animal lover. I’ve cared about animals all my life, yet I’ve done very little to help their obvious plight in the face of so much human cruelty. I actually did a rather cheesy life review with a life coach some years ago and was slightly embarrassed to admit that one of the key goals in my life would be to help animals (embarrassed partly because that doesn’t sound very cool and partly because I hadn’t done anything whatsoever to help). One of my other goals was to write a book so I thought why not combine the two.
KATHERINE CARVER: How have your own dogs influenced your decision to embark on your “Year to Help” adventure?
MARTIN USBORNE: My own dogs have reinforced my feeling that animals and humans are deeply interconnected and there is room for greater understanding.
KATHERINE CARVER: What was the impetus that inspired you to begin photographing dogs?
MARTIN USBORNE: I started with my project Dogs in Cars because of an early memory of being left in a car as a child combined with an early connection with animals. Dogs in Cars project was a way for me to explore that. (Some of Martin’s images from this body of work, Dogs in Cars, is shown immediately below).
KATHERINE CARVER: What countries have you visited, to date, during your project, “A Year to Help”?
MARTIN USBORNE: To date I have visited India, Spain, Greece, The Philippines, Vietnam, and Laos.
KATHERINE CARVER: How many animals have you saved and helped, during your project, “A Year to Help”?
MARTIN USBORNE: To date it is 302 but it is changing all the time. You can read more about the animals I have saved and what I classify as ‘saved’ here.
KATHERINE CARVER: How do you handle experiencing the suffering of animals that you have witnessed and continue to witness, during your project, “A Year to Help”?
MARTIN USBORNE: I find it difficult but important. One of the reasons why many people don’t care enough is because they are not exposed. I think being physically out of touch can lead to being emotionally out of touch. In some ways it has been quite a relief to touch the suffering, as strange as that sounds, because I no longer feel so numb about it all.
KATHERINE CARVER: How are you financially able to afford and fund this project, “A Year to Help”?
MARTIN USBORNE: I can’t. I have had a few generous donations but on the whole I have made fairly deep pockets by breaking a whole in the bottom of them.
KATHERINE CARVER: Have your friends and family members been supportive of your project, “A Year to Help”?
MARTIN USBORNE: They are supportive to the extent that they want me to follow my heart but I think some friends are not entirely convinced by my direction. My wife has been hugely supportive (I am currently dictating this to her as I drive back from a pig farm).
KATHERINE CARVER: How did your interest in photographing dogs begin as you have also done other works, featuring dogs, entitled, The Silence of Dogs in Cars; Nice to Meet You and A Portrait of Crufts?
MARTIN USBORNE: I’ve always loved dogs, and I have had them since I was a child. They are my way into the animal world.
KATHERINE CARVER: What artists inspire your work?
MARTIN USBORNE: It depends on the project, but I very much admire non-animal photographers and painters alike who capture psychological intensity in their imagery.
KATHERINE CARVER: What does “being creative” mean to you?
MARTIN USBORNE: Being free to explore your own view of the world and express it in the most intimate way you can.
KATHERINE CARVER: What has been the most difficult aspect of doing this project, “A Year to Help”?
MARTIN USBORNE: I think both the sheer work load of researching the material, travelling to the locations, and then writing and photographing the story while trying to keep some work (i.e., money) coming in on the side.
KATHERINE CARVER: What inspires you to keep going with your work and what keeps you motivated?
MARTIN USBORNE: With regards to A Year to Help – Other like-minded people keep me inspired – meeting people who are braver, stronger, and more dedicated than I am.
KATHERINE CARVER: What is the most rewarding and satisfying part about being a photographer and creating art and embarking on this project, “A Year to Help?”
MARTIN USBORNE: That you get to express your own voice.
KATHERINE CARVER: Can you briefly discuss the story of Mango, a three-month-old dog, who was found on the streets in connection with the illegal dog meat trade?
MARTIN USBORNE: We found Mango, pictured immediately below, on a street infamous for selling dogs to the dog meat trade. She was only a puppy and would likely have soon been meat. It is illegal in the Philippines to eat dog meat so this was a chance to raise some publicity for Network for Animals who are trying to stop the trade. You can read more about Mango here and here.
KATHERINE CARVER: To date, for you, what have been the most exciting and satisfying parts of this project, “A Year to Help”?
MARTIN USBORNE: I think a subtle but very definite feeling of coming more in touch with my own sense of right and wrong and my own sense of our relationship to the animal world. And hearing from readers who are touched by what I have done.
KATHERINE CARVER: Have you been able to keep to your manifesto posted on your “Year to Help” blog?
MARTIN USBORNE: Yes, I think on the whole I have. I’ve now stopped eating meat. I’ve helped animals whenever I can though I do admit occasionally I’ve swatted the odd mosquito and let Ann, my wife, get rid of the ants that decided they wanted to take over our house.
KATHERINE CARVER: How has your world-view changed since embarking on this project, “A Year to Help”?
MARTIN USBORNE: I have become both more disturbed by man’s fractious relationship to animals and more driven to do something to help.
KATHERINE CARVER: How has your view of animals changed by doing this project?
MARTIN USBORNE: I don’t feel my view of animals has hugely; but I do feel a greater respect and I suppose understanding of them as individuals that deserve our compassion.
KATHERINE CARVER: What is the biggest lesson that you have learned from embarking on this project, “A Year to Help”?
MARTIN USBORNE: That’s a tough on…That it is very important to find your own truth and not just listen to what society says. For me that means taking animals much more seriously and feeling more at peace with myself for doing so.
KATHERINE CARVER: When you return home to London what do you plan to work on next?
MARTIN USBORNE: I want to make a photography book about the story of the Spanish hunting dogs that I covered in my blog in the early part of this year. I also want to make some money and I will be starting a small publishing company called Hoxton Mini Press that makes beautiful, fun, quirky, and collectable books about East London. We will be launching a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the first two books next month so keep an eye out for more on that!
KATHERINE CARVER: How can people learn more about “A Year to Help”?
MARTIN USBORNE: By reading the blog!
KATHERINE CARVER: How can people view your photography?
KATHERINE CARVER: How can people support and donate to this important project?
MARTIN USBORNE: You can donate by clicking the ‘donate’ button via this link. We are very grateful for any help we receive.
All images contained in this blog post are courtesy of Martin Usborne.
You can read additional interviews here.