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Posted on | October 13, 2008 |


Photographer extraordinare Dan Martensen knows a thing or two about fashion photography. Whether he is shooting the latest editorial spreads, lookbooks or advertising campaigns - Martensen has a way of connecting the subject to the camera lense that is unparalleled. Always reinventing his shots and adding meaning to his portraits, we recently got to chat with Martensen about the demise of Polaroid film and his most obscure shoot to date. You can tell from his photographs that Martensen has to be an interesting guy…..and he managed to surpass my sepctulations. By Yale Breslin. Photo: Alexander Wang

You mentioned that you are saddened by the death of Polaroid film. Are you a big Polaroid shooter?

I mean… not that I don’t love to shoot polaroid, it’s more of a symbolic death than anything else. Ask any photographer, even the ones that shoot digital, and they’ll say they’ll miss having polaroid around. I just always thought it would kindof stick around. Like records… Seems like there must be enough people out there who would buy it on a smaller scale.

Do you have one most memorable shoot? If so, what was it?

I don’t know… Sounds boring, but I think they all kind of stick out in their own way. I just shot down in Tennessee at the Bonnaroo music festival. 3 days, 90 degree weather, 100,000 people and a batch of pot cookies that some guy gave us sure made things interesting. It was fun, everyone on set was so relaxed. I think I’m going to slip drugs in the catering on all my shoots.

If you could choose - who would be your dream subject to shoot?

Sorry, too hard. I don’t know, Jesus? Nelson Mandela? Michael Jackson?

Seems that you are traveling all over the place. What, in your opinion, has been the most obscure location that you have shot at?

Asbury Park New Jersey, the crappiest beach ever (aside from the legendary venue The Stone Pony). I spent a day shooting out of a crack motel that made jail look good. This place was practically out of a movie. (Which is probably why I wanted to shoot there) Junkies sleeping in the halls, rats, bed stains. Once upon a time Asbury Park was a happening beach town on the Jersey shore. Most likely this was over 80 years ago because when I called my Grandma (who is from Brooklyn), and asked her if she remembered Asbury Park as a kid, she replied “What? That DUMP? Why the hell are you shooting there?” But, I guess they’ve been rebuilding and renovating cause I’ve heard it’s been cleaned up since I last saw it.

I am sure you get this all the time - but what inspires you?

Usually Music, or any other art, photos, paintings, movies. It can be my friends… my girlfriend… my dog. I don’t know, it can be anything. I take in things from so many different places, everyone does. TV, internet… it really comes from everywhere.

Tell us how you got into photography? Was it always something you wanted to pursue?

My dad always had cameras in the house. I’m a lot like him in that way. I started taking pictures in highschool and when I realized I was pretty good at it I decided to keep shooting. I really never expected to do it for a living, but when I was filling out my application to art school they made me chose. It was a close call between painting and photography, so I basically tossed a coin. Wound up chosing photography.

You have mentioned before that learning how to put meaning into a photograph is your biggest challenge. What techniques/methods do you use to ensure that this sense of meaningfulness shines through?

If you’re referring to fashion photos I’ve taken I’d say there is little to no meaning in any of them. When I shoot fashion I look for in between moments, hoping to find an expression or a connection with the subject. The meaning of it all is very unclear to me, I am always aware that my images are meant to expose a certain expression of fashion, a feeling, a gesture of some sort, but it is very different from when I take on a project like “AMERICA” I am working on a series of images, some of which are up on my website, but thousands more wait to be edited. When I am shooting this, I am constantly considering my narrative, always aware that the less I put in the picture, the more I am saying as a photographer. This gets amplified when I edit… To me, a photographer’s voice is heard in the editing. My favorite photographers are the best editors, not necessarily the most technical or stylistic shooters.

I know we are going back a few years now - but tell me about your internship at Milk Studios. What did your duties entail and what did you take from that experience?

Ha, that’s simple. Hang out, clean extension cords, drink beer, sweep, drink more beer, look at pretty girls, look at what the big photographers use to shoot, drink more beer.

You assisted Alex Cayley (who is one of my favorite photographers). What did he teach you that you have carried throughout your career?

Wow, he is one of my favorite people in the world for sure. He definitely has a special approach to his work. I like the flow of it, the pace he works and especially his taste. His lighting was great too, I remember paying close attention to how he lit things, and I still steal from him to this day.

I need to ask - how did your dog Jake make his way into the Stussy advertisement campaign? Now that is an accomplishment!

Jake’s a PIMP! that’s how… No, my friend Kenneth Cappello shot the campaign at my old loft down on Broadway… Jake was a natural addition to the shoot. It kicked off his career.

You and Erin Wasson have worked together multiple times. What is it about her that exudes such powerful images?

I mean, she’s ridiculously beautiful and charismatic. It’s like I am invisible. I don’t know if anyone can be as comfortable in front of my lens as she can. We go way back, before fashion, before photos… I had known her for 4 years before I took a photo of her.

What’s up next for Dan Martensen?

I’m buying an old house upstate New York… It’s going to be my refuge and a place where I can create new things. I move in this weekend. Can’t wait.


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