Chris Martin is a multi-talented creator from Austin,TX. He founded the MADGODS clothing line in the Bay Area in 1997, which though you may not have heard of it, has had nominal success over the years. He has been collaborating with us from the beginning, and has shot most of our model videos, including a very successful short featuring alt-model Hattie Watson. We had a chance recently to ponder some of our past experiences together, and discuss inspirations and what the future may hold.
Where are you from and how did you first start using a camera to create? What were you taking pictures of?
I’m from Austin, Texas but my family roots are not. We have a mostly military background so at various times we have been spread across the world. Photos were always a way to stay connected and be aware of the family history so mom always had at least one simple standard camera around that she wouldn’t mind me using. Back then I rarely took pictures of people I knew. Strangers were more interesting or I would take pictures of places and things I found interesting like graffiti, toys or hiking spots. As I got older and better travelled – eventually touring a bit, digital photography became the easiest most accessible way to capture memories and that process developed into actually caring about composition and subject.
What is daily life for like at this time? Is photography a focus of yours or is it something you just enjoy doing?
Daily life is not very routine aside from at least one good meal and stopping to take a picture of something at some point. I love my iPhone because it’s always ready to go. As a result, almost no days go by I don’t take a photo. It’s quickly becoming almost never more than a couple hours. Definitely something I do because I enjoy it but it plays such a practical part of both my professional and personal lives. The more focused professional photography is a result of economics, simply being able to afford the photography I need to market MadGods. As I began to shoot more and more outside of professional purposes, I realized that it was my art and I could do what I want with it. Serving no purpose other than the cathartic process of creating and, in the case of fashion/erotica, collaborating- which I find really gratifying. It really helps to keep my heart where my head is at professionally.
I think all those things have really served the function of making independent photography much more accepted in general. Particularly erotic photography, which from a social-political point of view is very real form of Pagliaist Feminism which I support. These influences have worked to democratize the whole experience, too. The lines are blurred all over the place and as a result you sometimes can’t tell what is really cheap versus really expensive. You no longer need huge production budgets to create something of the highest quality. Even the definition of quality is upended. You’re left with just what turns you on or turns you off. Ultimately I really try to limit my direct exposure to what’s currently popular, as far as blogs and magazines, preferring to let it be filtered through my friends and real life every day exposure. Naturally I look, but I do try and limit the time spent researching what’s new and really try and just approach it as a fan. I look at my younger days when all this stuff really started to merge as a classic era with lots of influence I can draw on.
What is your approach with your new, more erotic style of shooting? Do you ever consider the viewer in your current work, or is it a more personal affair?
I would say it leans towards personal because it started as purely personal and private. As it became public I had to trust myself to know what’s good. Since it started with girlfriends who i really cared about and thought were amazingly beautiful, i try to attain some similar level of intimacy and respect for that point of inspiration. And if I like the effect, someone else should hopefully appreciate it. It doesn’t need to be loved by everyone but It needs to be really loved by somebody. “Not for everyone, but for some- the only thing…” is the Gomi rule.
It was a work in progress to get to that point. In the beginning I would worry about having a really solid plan when preparing a shoot, to have professionalism etc…. But once we start shooting, it’s not that the plan goes out the window, but we shoot the plan and then we still have all this energy left to create. Why stop? This is usually when the magic happens. So these days the plan is basic. Incorporate a couple elements, maybe particular clothing, props, looks or location- having a starting point in mind.. but the end point is undetermined. It is very much like a good sexual experience. You start slow trying to figure things out, you hit a groove and things feel good, you amp it up and things get really freaky and at some point you realize you reached some sort of climax and to go any further is just exercise. You’re satisfied. Have a cig and maybe a meal.
The internet is notorious for taking a creative idea, or look, and blowing up the spot. When we first started working together, there were very few people doing what we were doing in terms of the types of images and execution we took in applying graphics to clothing. And it happened again when we started shooting casually sexy images of girls wearing the clothes we created. Do you ever feel pressured to re-stake the claim to the ideas that made you unique at that time, or do think it’s better to just move on?
If I thought I had a way to clearly and explicitly lay claim to our place in history i would and eventually maybe I will. But I try to think about all the lines, designers and artists I’ve seen in the couple decades I’ve been around who have been there, been forgotten and then been remembered by people who really care. An example of which (and I think it’s a good thing) but Greg Mishka realizing the value of a mostly forgotten (and very ripped-off) brand like FUCT and buying it and giving it new life. I mean, it probably would have been nicer to to not have to sell it but people sell things like that all the time for far lesser reasons to less desirable buyers. Even if recognition wasn’t an issue, most designers, artist and creative types will naturally want to move away from what’s established or shit gets boring quick. This is culture so it must advance or it loses relevance. But yeah, fuck some of these late-comers getting their dicks ridden by know-nothing bloggers.
What is next for you and MadGods? How does the project differ from it’s origins in the Bay Area circa 1998?
I’m seriously trying to diversify what MadGods is. Back then I really just wanted to be the better tshirt company. In the pursuit of that some of the elements and skills we have can now be offered for the benefit of others. Behind the scenes we have been helping other companies either with design, production , marketing or general consulting. Not just clothing, but for example, the food world is blown up and locally we’ve found ourselves having a really solid history with some of the players who are currently running the scene or are about to. We can mix and match audiences so that’s become an unexpected and unplanned source of collaboration as well as a new market to sell to.
Also, I’m really planning to do what I’ve talked about for awhile and expand MadGods.com to be a more general cultural site. It sounds awful when I read what I just wrote but the idea is, MG has always had a particular point of view when compared to your usual local fare so as our community and culture continues to blow up, I really believe there is a niche audience for what we care about. Not annoyingly hipster and no where near mainstream and square. Since our model doesn’t require us to cast the widest possible net to make the effort lucrative we can actually make money the way we have been for years and simply cover what we care about or even diss what we hate. They used to call that journalism, I think.