Don’t mistake fashion photography as a means to an end – it is an art form.
Sure, there’s no shortage of gorgeous models, breathtaking sets, lights, cameras (duh) and all the other things that make up our perception of the surrounding glitz and glamour. Yet all of these are but paper and pen – the set up to tell a story.
From graphic design to photography, LA CANVAS’ friend Sean Martin is a master visual storyteller. He comes from a multi-artistic family: you may recognize his sister, Carissa, from your vines – as half of the lovable, Vine-famous Us The Duo, or from her fashion blog, or his brother, “Bam” Martin, the world-famous choreographer.
But aside from the Martins’ ventures in music, fashion, dance, we were particularly taken by Sean’s unique take on fashion and portrait photography. His interpretation of lights and shadows, with the help of an awesome styling/ hair & makeup team, result in such a unique and unforgettable flair to his photos.
Keep scrolling to experience his “how” and”why”s.
LA CANVAS: First thing’s first – weapon of choice.
Sean Martin: Canon 60D 85mm lens
LAC: From graphic design to photography/videography- why, and how was that transition?
SM: Marketing graphic design is all about communicating. Getting a message across. You want to evoke something in the viewer, or convince them of something. I only really delved into portrait and fashion photography in the past year and a half, and have since always followed that motif of communicating an idea through the images, no matter the medium of creation.
LAC: You come from a family of talented artists – we got a dancer, singer, photographer, etc., – how has that influenced you growing up // how does it inspire you now?
SM: When I was younger, I’d skateboard and make videos and share ‘em, just for fun. My bothers would always be drawing. Our whole family sings in a choir so music was always around. Our parents were always encouraging us to be artistic.
It was more so toward our adult lives, when all of us were pursuing something artistic. As you’d assume, our Asian parents, as appreciative of art as they were, were still skeptical about the pursuit of a less traditional occupation. There was no shortage of support, but always a nudge to have a “just in case” plan – but I didn’t want to fall back on a plan B. It just pushed me more to make it as a creative.
LAC: My favorite photo set of yours is “Life of the Party” – what was the inspiration behind that?
SM: Several of my editorials are inspired by music. The lyrics or vibe of a certain song. This one came from Alessia Cara’s “Here” – where the girl is at a party, “supposed to be” having fun, but her actual mood is so humorously juxtaposed. I imagined her sitting there, in a bright setting, in a dark, brooding mood. Just kind of bitchy and attitudey, like “What the hell am I doing here..”
LAC: Oh dear. I am the girl in your photos. What was your most memorable shoot?
SM: I did a portrait session for my sister and her husband, for them to use for collateral. It was special because, obviously, they’re my family, in an intimate black & white type of shoot. It was very true and raw. It also stands out because it was the first time I was ever commissioned to have my work used.
LAC: Favorite part of the human face.
SM: Eyes. Anyone’s eyes can captivate you, especially in photos. You can tell a story, or the viewer make up their own. They’re mysterious, in a way, makes you wonder about the rest of the person.
LAC: Favorite part of the human body.
SM: The shoulder collarbone area always sparks interest. Whenever you see a shot of the bare collarbone, the way that the lights and shadows wrap around those bones are so beautiful.
LAC: What do you look for when sorting through so many photos?
SM: The look on their face. If I feel they’re not gonna like it, then I won’t use it. That’s my first filter. Then I’ll look at their body positions, what looks awkward or striking, what would catch attention of viewer. Then I’d get picky about the lights and shadows – even if they have a good look, if the shadow’s off, it’ll ruin it.
LAC: The most tedious aspect of being a photographer?
SM: Setting up and taking down, especially with the lights I use. I’m always willing to teach people my craft if they want to learn, and it helps having an extra set of hands. That, and planning. Shoots are such a collaborative effort that requires all people in the project to show up. If one person flakes, the house of cards crumbles.
LAC: What about the most fulfilling aspect of being a photographer?
SM: Every artist does what they do, first and foremost, for themselves. But when you share it with the world, hearing that people appreciate, like, or even just “get” it, to know that they’re on board and see my vision- that’s awesome.
Most of what I do isn’t the majority of what’s out there currently. Your timeline’s flooded with a lot of natural settings and naked girls.. and I sometimes wonder, “Should I be doing that, too?” but if anything, I like that my style is less common. I love using artificial light, because you can design the whole shot in such different ways with just that. Because my aim is to tell a story through my photos, it’s important to be able to have control over the direction.
LAC: What advice do you have for budding artists out there trying to make a career from their work or even just trying to have their work seen by the world?, especially those in LA?
SM: To find their own voice. Like I said, timelines will be flooded with people’s work, and it’s so easy to just follow the trend for the followers and likes. I mean, you can monetize that and make it, but for those who are genuine in their pursuit – take the inspiration from all that, and make it your own. Don’t get lost in the huge crowd. A big part in refining your vision, is to study your history. If you wanna go far, go back – research the people who pioneered what you’re interested in. I watch documentaries of street photographers from New York and it help shapes both my intent and practices – not to mention, further deepens my love of photography.
Also, learn how to network, be business savvy. You don’t have to be a starving artist to be an artist – be a business creative by learning how to manage your brand and work.
LAC: Favorite places to shoot in LA, not in a studio.
SM: My rooftop – or, any rooftop, for that matter. I also love the Arts District, just walking around and stumbling upon places to shoot. There are so many hidden gems.
LAC: What effect do you aim to have on those viewing your photos?
SM: Art is more than meets the eye, so rather than someone seeing a photo and thinking “cool,” I’d want any emotion to be evoked – whether it’s joy, wonder, sadness.. If I’m creating something that sparks a feeling, or even a curiosity of “how” or “why” I made this, then I’ve done my job.
LAC: What’s on the horizon for your photography ventures?
SM: Eventually, I want to travel and take portraits in other countries, of people that you wouldn’t normally get to see photos of. Joey L, who was a fashion photographer like myself, started traveling to other countries, and telling the stories of the people there. From sending messages or ideas through a photo, to really being able to be a person or community’s voice – that’s the storyteller I want to be.