The photographer behind M.I.A's Versus campaign talks GIFs and internet obsessions
Over the next two weeks, to mark the release of the collaboration, we will see an electric web of M.I.A. x Versus Versace themed articles takeover Dazed Digital
Jaime Martinez is all about the internet. The Mexican born photographer first stumbled across GIFs while loitering on instant messenger in 2007, immediately seeing something more than a techy laugh in the format. Now he’s known for his raw, vibrant and witty animated photos of friends, foreboding women and musicians letting loose onstage. The M.I.A. x Versus Versace campaign is his latest venture, working with the singer and visual artist on the series shot in East London’s bootleg-drenched markets. Maybe it’s the leering motion of the GIFs, the garish layered prints or the roguish glint in M.I.A.’s eyes, but the energy captured in each shot is palpable. It’s also perfectly in line with the rebellious attitude the collection heralds. Martinez and M.I.A.’s working relationship no doubt has much to do with it: as he explains, “they go way back.”
Dazed Digital: So, how did you start working with M.I.A.?
Jaime Martinez: She found my work on some blog in 2009 and wrote me an email saying she was a fan. She invited me her concert so I could take pictures of her performing. I didn’t believe it! Of course I knew about M.I.A. and I liked her music so I thought somebody was playing a joke on me. I only replied when somebody followed up on M.I.A.’s email saying I should actually get back to her.
DD: Then what?
Jaime Martinez: After photographing those two shows she asked me to sign to her record label, N.E.E.T. for a year and to take pictures for her and her bands. The first thing I did for her was to take photos for the Maya album press kit, before going on tour with her twice – to Europe and America. Then of course I was taking photos of N.E.E.T.’s bands: like Sleigh Bells, Rye Rye and Blaqstarr.
DD: How do you capture the energy of a band while on stage?
Jaime Martinez: Bands like Sonic Youth and Deerhunter have great energy. Another band I love to take pictures of is Kap Bambino. They are from Belgium. The girl has a lot of energy, and it just makes for such an exciting photo, capturing that, especially with 3D pictures and GIFs because it looks great in motion. I think I also like taking pictures of bands because I’m a frustrated musician, I would have loved to play guitar but I was no good!
DD: What is it about the GIF format that grabs you?
Jaime Martinez: I love playing around on the Internet. One of my favourite bands is Sonic Youth and I love that they experiment a lot. I like to believe that I can experiment in the same way but with my camera. GIFs originally got popular around 2005 and 2006 with pages like MySpace and instant messenger programs. I love to chat and this program gave you the chance to customise the GIFs. I started to make my own GIFs while chatting with my friends. A lot of people were making GIFs using images from the internet and loops from movies or cartoons or music videos. But I started to make them with my own images. I believe I was one of the first photographers to use the animated format and take it seriously. I viewed it as a new medium to make art.
DD: So when did you create your first real 3D series?
Jaime Martinez: My first 3D series was shot at SXSW in March 2009. I took my 3D camera and shot the festival.
DD: How do you feel about the way the digital age is changing photography?
Jaime Martinez: We love to take pictures, more and more. Not too long ago we were restricted to film and it was expensive and not very practical. But now we have cameras everywhere: telephones, iPads and computers. So photography is changing. GIFs for example; I think they are a part of this change. For example with Instagram, some people don’t like that everybody is a photographer now. But I see it another way. If you have a pen and paper, you can write. But it doesn’t make you a writer. I think it’s great that photography is more accessible.
DD: Do you think it’s that experimental side of your photography that M.I.A. has been so drawn to?
Jaime Martinez: I hope so! I think it’s that I’m always on the search for something new. I don’t stay on the same wavelength.
DD: So how did the Versus Versace campaign come about?
Jaime Martinez: From the start, M.I.A. said she wanted to be in control of most of the parts of the campaign. She wanted animated pictures, so she chose me.
DD: And how did it all come together?
Jaime Martinez: It was her idea of shooting in the street, in the markets. My part was to scout the best backgrounds and to direct her – and obviously to do the animation. It was a fun project.
DD: What’s up next for you?
Jaime Martinez: I want to get into more video experimentation. I have been playing around with projecting videos at small parties at home in Mexico, for personal projects. I’m also working on a series of GIFs from images I took at Corona Capital festival in Mexico City; M.I.A. played there too.