LOOP OF YOUR LIFE: JAIME MARTÍNEZ

Experience GIFs and short loops as the essence of life’s best split seconds.

Text Tin Dabbay

Mexican photographer Jaime Martínez has been lit by the gleam of the desktop since the age of floppies and dial-up. It’s no surprise his work contains the hybrid texture of the analog and digital language. He first came across the GIF in 2007 and almost a decade later, he’s still at it—loading and looping moments—from the medium’s infancy to its resurgence. Online since 1995, here’s a glimpse of his days from ’95 ‘til infinity.

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I see that you’re into Sonic Youth, but what other influences have been crucial in developing your eye?
I started to take photos at the age of 16, first as a hobby, but then I started to get professional around the age of 25. I studied literature before, but then I realized I had more talent to create images. Sonic Youth, and other similar bands, has been a big influence in my work, because I like how they always experimented to create a new sound and a different way to create songs. That’s the approach I like to believe I have to do in my photos. Other influences I have are nature and women. I always find inspiration looking in the sky and the mountains; I love clouds, stars, the sunrises, sunsets, the mountains, and the sea. I consider myself very romantic, and I’m often idealizing the figure of the woman, and often mixing all these influences. Also, I spend a lot of time on the Internet—more than checking regular blogs, I like to spend time on the Google Images search tool.

Your work contains a spirit of aggression in the best sense of the word. Would you say that your temperament directly translates to your work?
I never thought my photos are aggressive, but I feel somehow you’re right. All the time I’m feeling this “hunger” to catch images and moments. One of the first reasons I started to take photos was because I was very nostalgic, and in the camera, I found a tool to capture moments forever. What’s usually inside my head? I tend to be worried or anxious about things that are not happening yet, and for me, it’s hard to relax because I’m always thinking of possible things to do, or persons to meet, or cities to visit, and images to do. Usually I’m fine with this, but sometimes I also like to forget about everything and just try to enjoy the moment, even when it is not a really good moment. My temperament translates into my work because I’m always photographing what my wishes or dreams are or sometimes my frustrations and nightmares as well.

How do you see image-making evolving in the future?
Lately, most of my images are being taken with my cellphone. I have never been so married to any kind of camera. I have learned to work with what I have. My phone is what I have always on my hand. My most recent digital camera is a Lumix from the year 2009. My analog cameras are from the 80s.

I think it is time to get a new camera, not exactly a new model, but something new for me because when I change my camera, it also modifies my style, and I like that. About the future, I guess it will keep being very smartphone-centered for a few years. More than smartphone-centered, it will be social media-centered. I mean, nowadays the main reason for most of the people to take photos is to post it on Facebook or Instagram.

You mentioned that these days, some people hate that everyone’s a photographer. What’s your take on it especially with the proliferation of Instagram clichés such as overt minimalism?
I love that everyone is taking photos all the time, but I keep thinking that it doesn’t make you a photographer—at least not one living for that and making a living out of that. Clichés and trends will always exist in all areas. Now as you mention, it is minimalism on Instagram. A few years ago, it was lo-fi style. On the other hand, what I love most is that everybody is doing a visual diary of life; it doesn’t matter what’s the style or the cliché or the quality, what matters is the registry of this time, our times.

“It is in loop forever,
so it can extend the feeling
as long as you watch it,
it never stops.”

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M.I.A. is a huge part of your portfolio. How has she influenced your creative process? Are you still in touch?
I worked for her for a whole year in 2010. That year, I traveled with her in two tours, I was her official photographer. I think I was in about 40 of her concerts so it gave me some experience on being on the road because I was also traveling with all her crew in the airports, hotels, and backstage all the time so I learned to be behind a character, and be prepared to catch the important moments, not only on stage or in the photo shoots. I think we made a good photo diary of that time. She said then that she wanted to make a book with it, but it hasn’t happen yet. After 2010, we were in touch only two times more—in 2013 when she called me to do the Versus Versace campaign, and in 2014 when she invited me to make GIFs and photos during the shoot of her “Double Bubble Trouble” music video, which she directed. Some of the photos were included in the video. I like working with her because she likes my style, and I like how she poses; it is a good mixture, we can create really cool images.

I salute how you turn GIFs into art. In defense of the medium, how does it fare to its siblings–the static photo and the video?
I’m honored sometimes people saw my GIFs as art. For a time, I was just uploading them to my pages, and then curators, artists, galleries, and magazines invited me to participate in shows and exhibitions. It was a novelty in 2009 to introduce this technique to photography, and then it became a trend. I think it was because of the “magic” it represents, which was not exploited before, at least in the mainstream culture as it is now: a GIF can capture a “longer” moment than a photograph, but it is very much concise and direct than a video, even more, it is in loop forever, so it can extend the feeling as long as you watch it, it never stops.

I also like to call them “a long photograph” because it is more close to the static photo language in a way that you can watch it as long as you keep your eye on it, whereas a video or movie has a beginning and end, and usually it is longer than a few seconds or minutes. A GIF is just a few seconds. 3D GIFs, on the other hand, are not longer in time because they freeze a moment. With a 3D camera, you can make a stereoscopic GIF of a glass of water falling in the air, and the drops will be frozen, but it will have motion and depth, you can see it from different angles. That’s the magic.

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“What I love most is that everybody
is doing a visual diary of life;
it doesn’t matter what’s the style
or the cliché or the quality,
what matters is the registry
of this time, our times.”

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So they say nostalgia sometimes sells more than sex nowadays. What can you say about this? Do you associate GIFs more with nostalgia or futurism? Why?
Some GIFs are nostalgic especially those made with analog cameras. Some GIFs make you think of the future, especially those made with digital graphics and special effects. I think right now both of them are part of the present and are now very common. A few years ago when GIFs started to be in fashion, people liked to think it was the future of photography, and in a way it was because it gave a new perspective to photography.

I think GIF is now a very important part of photography, but is not photography itself. We now have Vines and Instagram videos—both are small video loops. I think we have to thank the GIFs because of these new trends. GIFs are being now getting obsolete, but thanks to them we now have the small video loops and Vines as the trend.

What’s the definition of selling out for you?
Selling out is when you change your style to like other people. I don’t have anything against selling out. We can do whatever we like to do. We don’t have to please any industry or our fans, as long as you are happy doing what you like, that’s what matters.

How do you intend to mature your work that is heavily rooted in being young?
That’s a good question. I’m 37 years old right now, but in many ways, I keep feeling like I’m 19, and you can see that on many of my photos, and in a way that incongruity is part of my current style. I guess maybe one good day I will wake up and feel older or more mature or something, and consequently my photos and photo style/theme will grow with me.

From another point of view, maturity is not always related to the age, and it’s often related with experience. Every year, I feel my work is slowly getting more mature in aspects like technique and composition.