Michael Martin

Based in San Jose, California, Michael Martin is an artist and teacher who specializes in photography. After serving for six years as Academic Dean, he recently stepped down from teaching as an Associate Professor of Digital Arts at Cogswell College in San Jose. His artwork has been exhibited throughout the United States and Europe. Michael’s work in the community includes Board President of WORKS/San Jose Gallery, the City of Santa Clara Cultural Advisory Commission, and recently Chair of the San Jose Arts Commission, where he was also a member of the nationally recognized Public Art Committee and the San Jose Mineta Airport Art Program Oversight Committee.

Public Spaces

During the past several years, I have been primarily interested in what could best be termed public spaces – I have documented and explored the architecture and activities at fairgrounds, city parks, cultural festivals, and street parades in America, recreational facilities and shopping arcades in Ireland, shopping centers and apartment buildings in London, city squares and courtyards in Paris, and bureaucratic spaces abandoned by the Communist government in the former East Berlin.

These photographs are often sober and frugal in feel because I avoid any spectacle or dramatization in the locations. The emptiness is saturated with a subtle attention to color, and the prevailing silence instilled with a vernacular yet metaphysical quality. They are travel pictures yet they do not identify the place by cultural or historical details as much as use their particulars to investigate a detached, disembodied slice of time. The detachment makes the familiar strange to us.

My photographs can make us feel uncomfortable. They comment on the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and the places we go. The photos scrutinize the very way we live our lives. It could be said that the pictures exploit our lack of good taste and good judgment by picturing it all in the brightest of colors, exposing our petty vanities to the world. Another point of view is that the pictures merely record a myriad of social ills, the loosening of community ties, the mass embrace of consumerism, the manic pursuit of leisure and tourism, and the phantasmagoria of the middle class. To me, the pictures are a carefully honed collection of aesthetic devices that are used not just to define a social point or to underline a cultural statement, but for their own sake, in celebration of photography’s spectacle as a still, two-dimensional image acting as a mirror to the way we all live. They also attempt to prove that while photography has the ability to evoke the unique person who resides in each human body, it is equally capable of recording everything and revealing nothing.

In the end, I want the viewer to rediscover one of the oldest and most rewarding pleasures of photography – the patient study of details too small, too incidental, or too overwhelming to have been noticed at the moment of exposure.

To view more of Michael Martin’s work please visit his website.