Tonight, Dalston’s Doomed Gallery presents American Xerography, an exhibition exploring the work of curator and landscape-photographer Matt Martin.
Historically, the American road trip has fascinated photographers, writers and musicians. The freedom of the open road and the sense of possibility, discovery and escape has long been an attractive and inspiring prospect. The idea of road-tripping has had a particularly powerful influence on photography; many photographers have embarked on trips across the US and created some of the most important work in the history of the medium.
It is within this broad lineage, that Martin has used photography to put his own twist on the West Coast road-trip narrative. Fascinated by the vast areas of urban sprawl, he found inspiration in the emptiness turning his lens on to the deserted streets to create a series of xerox prints; a technique that involves a repeated process of scanning, printing, rescanning and printing transforming the photocopier into a makeshift dark room – think Lynch meets Warhol.
“What I love about LA is that because everyone drives the streets are so free of people, so while shooting the landscape between the gaps in the traffic, America comes across as very empty,” explains Martin. “It’s one of the only cities I have been to where it’s so busy but then there are these gaps between the pockets of bars and shops where it’s like a no man’s land. It’s a really inspiring city in terms of its landscape.”
Over the years, the photographer has exhibited his work as part of group and solo shows around the UK, whilst producing a number of DIY zines and small press, through his own publishing house, The Photography Club. Here, we talk to Matt about the relationship between his images, America and xerox printing.
Nazanin Shahnavaz: Can you tell me a little bit about your background and your trajectory into photography?
Matt Martin: I started photography when I was about sixteen. I was influenced by punk and skateboarding in those early years and that really has stayed with me throughout my practice. After college, I went on to work in a photo lab and started making zines and putting on DIY exhibitions in my home city of Exeter. I had access to cheap film and free printing so that really helped when I was starting out. I then moved to Brighton in 2010 and worked as an assistant and started doing more curation work. This lead onto running a gallery and launching The Photocopy Club, I then moved to London about three years ago to take on the role as curator at Doomed Gallery.
Nazanin: What is your manifesto as a photographer?
Matt: My manifesto has probably changed a few times over the year. I guess my main focus was documentary, portrait and youth culture, but now I have completely stepped away from that. My work now focuses on landscape, archival works and printing.
“I wanted the work to feel like it had more of a history and that the printed works could have been taken from any part of time.”
Nazanin: Can you share any stories behind your images?
Matt: A lot of the early work in this project, I would just walk for miles through LA. What I love about LA is that because everyone drives the streets are so free of people, so while shooting the landscape between the gaps in the traffic, America comes across as very empty. It’s one of the only cities I have been too where it’s so busy but then there are these gaps between the pockets of bars and shops where it’s like a no man’s land. It’s a really inspiring city in terms of it’s landscape.
Nazanin: What are some of the themes explored in your up-and-coming exhibition?
Matt: I have been studying a lot of historical American photography and this has really played a huge part in this project. The early works of the American road trip, The Rand McNally Photo-Auto Guide was a book with written and photographic directions between New York and Chicago. Also archival images of American lumberjacks and of early landscape works in the national parks. This research really helped when making the work because I didn’t want to make just another American road trip exhibition. I wanted the work to feel like it had more of a history and that the printed works could have been taken from any part of time.
“Chain”, 2017 by Matt Martin. Courtesy of “American Xerography” at Doomed Gallery.
“The West Coast changes so much in terms of landscape. You can surf in the morning and go snowboarding in the evening.”
Nazanin: What’s the relationship between your images and the Xerox technique that you have used?
Matt: When using the photocopier I wanted it to feel like I was in the dark room and do as much of the editing as possible on the photocopier itself. I printed several versions that were lighter and darker, more contrast, different paper colours and stock. I wanted to give the images more of a place in history by printing the works on paper stock that fitted the photograph best, the two together become one piece in themselves. The copier I use is black toner only so it gives you this black dusty layer that sits on the paper and to me it just gives so much more to the image.
Nazanin: Why LA? What drew you to the West Coast?
Matt: LA just became a starting point. I would go out for the LA Art Book Fair and then just carry on from there for a couple of weeks. The city has the most perfect light and the colours just seem to pop out at you. The shadows made by the design of the city just make it so visually rich. The West Coast changes so much in terms of landscape. You can surf in the morning and go snowboarding in the evening. You have the mountains, the forest, the desert. It’s just all there for you. I really hope that the national parks and public land survives over the next four years as that really is what makes America great.
“Car”, 2017 by Matt Martin. Courtesy of “American Xerography” at Doomed Gallery.