An Interview with: Simon Martin
A winner of the 2016 Portrait of Britain Awards with features in Hunger, Of The Afternoon and Chrono magazines, Simon Martin's work has also been exhibited at Victoria House (Saatchi New Sensations, 2013), Fort Collins' Centre for Fine Art Photography (Portraits, curated by Amy Arbus, 2014) and most recently Photo Scratch, where Simon's Cadets series took the spotlight. We caught up with Simon to discuss Cadets, his influences and his current practice.
Who are you, and where are you from?
My name is Simon Martin and I am a freelance photographer currently based in Kent and working in London and the South East of England. My work revolves around British culture, and more so recently, its place in an ever changing environment within the UK.
Tell us something about your project we might not get from a first impression.
‘Cadets’ looks at the social interactions and activities of a group of 13-18 year olds as they take part in an after school group that draws its influence from the ethos of the Royal Marines Military. I hoped to capture aspects of their lives that we all experience at this age, beginning to understand who we are or who we want to be in the future. What I want people to understand is that the purpose of the group isn’t to make small soldiers but to build confidence within the participants in their own abilities to accept and complete challenges that are presented to them.
Do you have a history with the Marine Cadets yourself? How did you become involved?
I had no previous history with the cadets prior to starting the work, I think thats a big part of why I saw them as an interesting subject for the project. At that age I couldn’t think of anything worse than leaving a strict regimented space like school to put on another uniform and enter an even more regimented situation, it made no sense to me. What I found was a group of young adults helping each other, building a close group of friends and growing through what they loved to do. The adults at the cadets are very much guardians for the cadets safety but don’t play as much as an authoritarian role as I had originally imagined.
Can you see your work with the Cadets progressing further? If so, how so?
I’m currently in the process of creating dummy books of the work and developing what I think I’m missing from the edit. I thought I was done with the work but I think there are missing elements that need to be represented that aren’t there currently.
How do you see the role of the Cadets responding to growing debates surrounding gender stereotypes and inclusivity?
The military can be seen as a very masculine environment, and with only one woman ever passing modern qualifications to join the Royal Marines the cadets could play a huge part in breaking gender stereotypes and beliefs that some young adults may hold. Though the cadets have struggled to find willing female attendants in the past they currently have a large number of female participants at the barracks who have recently taken home more awards than many of the boys. For people of this age to be part of an environment that sees no lines between gender and includes everyone in their activities and challenges can only be a positive situation to be involved in.
Who or what has been the single greatest influence on you and your work today?
Film has always played a huge part in influencing my work, I have always loved moving image and have toyed with it behind the scenes of most of my projects. The ability to create a feature length film that contains a constant stream of beautiful imagery is something I have come to admire hugely, films like ‘There Will be Blood’ and ‘Gummo’ that create a sense of a time and place in such a touching way may not have directly influenced my image making visually, but inspire me to make work none the less.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience with BJP’s Portrait of Britain 2016 and how this influenced your presence / practice?
It was a great honour to be featured in the first Portrait of Britain next to such great work, the whole experience made me reconsider the way in which to get work seen and on such a large scale. It definitely benefited my presence and I gained me access to platforms that may not have otherwise seen or recognised my work.
Let us know what you’re currently working on and where we can keep up with your work.
I’m currently working on a long term project called ‘Bearing Fruit’ that looks at the development of my home town Sittingbourne and the short and long term affects the promised improvement will have on the town and its people. You can see the work and other projects on my website www.simon-martin.org and keep up to date with my exhibitions and publications on my Instagram @simonmartin.ph