Credit: Cher Martinez

It is a pleasure to introduce Santa Barbara–raised, Mexico City–born photographer Cher Martinez to those unfamiliar with her wonderfully dreamy body of work. Martinez began taking pictures for her sister’s blog on a simple Nikon point-and-shoot camera, but it wasn’t until she documented a family vacation to San Francisco using her Samsung Galaxy phone that her love for the medium blossomed. Her father gave her her first analog camera, a Pentax K1000, on her 18th birthday, and the rest is (intimate) history.

Martinez, who is currently a film student at CSUN, caught my eye in 2019 with her first series, “The Future of Filmmaking,” which was captured on 35mm film and spotlighted women of color in SBCC’s Film Department. Noting the lack of diversity among her fellow students and teachers, she set out to create a space where their talents and walks-of-life were celebrated. “The Future of Filmmaking” is the first of a series she hopes to continue that will highlight the waves women of color are making in industries and professions still typically dominated by white men. 

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There is a beautiful yet haunting quality of homesickness and bittersweet nostalgia in her photographs, many of which depicting fragments of the present or memories of past visits to see family in Mexico. She adds depth to her images by overlaying them with text, making them feel like movie stills, or excerpts from a diary. The added text provides glimpses into her intimate thoughts and passing feelings, while also expanding on the notion that images alone speak multitudes. In this way, Martinez subverts expectations, transforming the “mundane” into highly personal art.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who’s met an avid photographer that Martinez isn’t very enthusiastic about being in front of the camera. However, she does see it as a way to shift certain narratives of beauty and to take her power back. For example, in one series of self-portraits she emphasized her acne; these images caught the attention of Today. But her work isn’t only personal; it’s also an ode to the vibrance and power of women. She brings people together, and the results are a decadent feast for the eyes. 

Martinez has grown to enjoy seeing her subjects — many of whom have never been in front of the camera before — unfold their layers and acclimate to the photographer’s gaze. “I love when people are new to it,” she says. “There’s this language and energy that’s established. Seeing people be able to feel into themselves in ways they didn’t think they could. It’s really cool to see that transition.” 

Martinez’s first documentary film project was for an SBCC class around the time that the “migrant caravan” was making its way to the Mexico/U.S. border. Martinez was disappointed by the media’s harmful influence and frustrated that she could not make the trek down south in order to document the journey and provide necessities. These feelings prompted her to refocus on her own community. Her film Ganandose la Vida (available on YouTube) pays homage to often overlooked street vendors. Cher was proud of the project, but she didn’t expect it to become as meaningful an experience as it did. After uploading her video online, a granddaughter of one of the film’s subjects reached out to her and thanked her for shining a light, not just on their grandparent’s labor, but also on their personhood.Martinez carries this sentiment into her work, beautifully centering people existing on society’s margins. 

Like other artists, there are times when Martinez struggles to find the inspiration to be perfectly productive in the middle of this pandemic. If her previous works are any indication, the path she is carving out for herself and others shines brightly ahead.

To check out more of Cher Martinez’s photography, follow @Cherthismoment on Instagram. 

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