Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Ariya Martin

Ariya Martin received her Masters of Fine Arts in Photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology. Born in Rochester, NY she has worked at significant photographic institutions such as the George Eastman House and Kodak. A resident of New Orleans since 2006 she co-founded One Bird, a nonprofit that blends social work and art. The pilot program, The New Orleans Kid Camera Project, began in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It was created to address the psychological and emotional impact of displacement on children returning home to New Orleans. Since One Bird’s inception, Ariya has conducted photography workshops for Tibetan refugees in India and for youth in Haiti. She also serves as full time faculty in the art department at The University of New Orleans. Her work investigates personal narrative and everyday moments in an effort to express the delicate balance inherent in living. Recent photographic work from her series Everything Nothing Everything was given honorable mention in the critical journal, The Photo Review, and her various works in photography, video and installation have been exhibited nationally.

View more of Ariya's work here

Photograph by Southerly Gold collective 

Ashley Kauschinger: Can you talk about your female photography collective, Southerly Gold? What brought the four of you together? What are your goals? What are your thoughts on collaboration?

Ariya Martin: The idea started while talking to photographer and friend, Aubrey Edwards. It was actually Aubrey who connected all of us- I didn’t know Elena or Akasha before. I think it was while we were discussing our frustration with the fact that there weren’t any galleries dedicated to contemporary photography, and also from the desire to create a supportive community of like-minded women. So we met over a few drinks and started brainstorming. It fell into place really organically. We all get along really well and we have recently embarked on a collaborative photography project about Louisiana. Aside from my own art making I have found collaborating to be extremely rewarding. It's actually becoming more difficult to work on my own the more collaborative work I do. I enjoy the dialogue, the sharing of ideas and the creative energy that gets generated.

Ariya teaching in Haiti with One Bird 

AK: You are also the Co-Director of The New Orleans Kid Camera Project. What an inspiring project! Can you discuss how it came about and your mission?

AM: The New Orleans Kid Camera Project began after Hurricane Katrina. Cat Malovic and Joanna Rosenthal were finishing their Master of Social Work degrees at Tulane and had been volunteering in the ninth ward where they met a family (the first to return) with four children and a newborn. After Katrina, schools were closed, many neighbors hadn’t returned, and so the kids had nothing to do. My friend and I, who are both photographers and had been teaching kids at a community darkroom in Rochester, NY met Cat when we came down to volunteer rehabbing houses. After that initial meeting we knew we wanted to come back so we raised money, got cameras donated and drove down to New Orleans a few months later. We found kids and started other groups by literally driving around and asking kids if they wanted to take pictures and do art projects. If they said yes we showed up and would continue to meet with them every week! Our focus was to work in areas of the city that had been historically neglected as well as quite obviously neglected after Katrina. The mission of our non profit, One Bird, that the New Orleans Kid Camera Project is a project of, is to teach our participants tangible skills that will assist them in sharing their stories and conveying their perspective, identity and culture. It is very important that we collaborate with their community, their families and take into account their cultural background (since we are usually outsiders). Our primary tools are photography and writing.

(collection 1) #1 

AK: Your work has a sense of being playful with everyday life. What motives you to create? Do you photograph spontaneously? What inspires you?

AM: My photographs are a combination of spontaneity and thoughtful inquiry. I don’t have a set plan, but I do usually have an idea before I start making pictures. Everyday, personal spaces and things I am going through in my daily life inspire me. By that, I mean small, intimate moments that we probably have all experienced. They feel so personal and yet they are completely universal as well. For example, the most recent body of work began in my grandfather’s house in Queens, NY. Shortly before his death, at the age of ninety-two, I went to visit him in the hospital. While there I began to notice small changes, signs of aging, and it became clear to me in a way that it hadn’t before, that even though the house still resembled very much the place of my childhood memories, it wouldn’t for much longer. So I began making pictures of the house as I knew it, and the house as experienced by my grandfather. There were the objects, not yet relics, of our family and my grandfather’s life. After his death I continued to go back and photograph as the house changed- as objects were removed and renovations were done in preparation to sell it. I was trying to capture, with my digital camera, the confounding effect of time virtually standing still, yet also leaving its mark. Which I think we can all relate to. This is basic stuff: living, aging, dying, being human.


AK: You use a broad range of media--from photography and video to sound and sculpture. Have you always been interested in combining media? Do you feel each media allows you to say something new? Has this given you more freedom to express?

AM: When I first started taking photography seriously in college the darkroom got me hooked. I probably spent the first four years focusing mostly on black and white photography- only showing color work occasionally. It wasn’t until I went to grad school that I started making videos and working in installation. It was like my world simultaneously opened up, but also collapsed. I had been focusing on one thing for so long and then all of a sudden, I wanted more than just photographs hanging on a wall--I wanted the experience to be more immersive. There’s more freedom in that, but By creating more possibilities you have more freedom, but you also have more choices and more decisions. The challenge is to know when to use still photography, video, sound and to when to incorporate them into a larger installation.

Teeny Tiny Tower #1
AK: You are involved in many projects. How do you balance this with creating your own work and life?

AM: Balancing everything is about prioritizing and about learning how to say no to opportunities when you have too much on your plate. I am not the best at time management, and I always stress to my college students that time management is one of the most important skills you can learn. As I get more involved and artistically fulfilled by collaborative projects I am spending more time on them and less on my individual work. The artist Janine Antoni did a piece where she learned how to walk a tight rope. What she said about this experience really resonates with me: "I started to notice that it wasn't that I was getting more balance but that I was getting more comfortable with being out of balance...."

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