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Interview with photo-artist Martha Weintraub


'Azalea', digital print, Martha Weintraub
Martha Weintraub is a photo-artist based in New Jersey. She happens to be my wife's cousin, and when Martha attended my and Patty's wedding, she gave us a beautiful, intriguing framed print of one of her photos, which hangs in our weekend house near the Mississippi River. I've been looking at and admiring that picture for so long that I decided it was time to explore Martha's art a little more deeply. Click here to see Martha Weintraub's work online. Her new work is on display at Gallery 14 in Hopewell, NJ.

Philip: When did you become a photographer, and why?

Martha: Well, just about everyone is a photographer, right? I had point-and-shoot cameras and recorded family gatherings, trips, my kids' milestones, etc., all my adult life. But I began taking photography seriously when I got my first “serious” camera in 1997—a Nikon SLR film camera. At first I used the camera to take travel photos but then branched out to explore new ways of photographing flowers. I did a series of photographs of dried orchids arranged on my kitchen windowsill and lit by various kinds of glass with that film camera. I continue to study and learn. I have taken workshops and studied with Richard Wright, Ernestine Ruben, Maggie Taylor, and Jerry Uelsman.

Philip: What led you to the use of digital image manipulation in creating your work? What advantages/disadvantages do you see compared to traditional darkroom processing?

Martha: The first impetus to enter the digital world came from seeing what a photographer/artist friend and mentor, Rhoda Kassov-Isaac, was able to create digitally. Maggie Taylor and her husband Jerry Uelsman show the limits and possibilities of traditional versus digital post-processing. I had the privilege of spending a day with them in 2007. They looked at my work and encouraged me to keep going. They both create surrealistic worlds, Jerry using traditional darkroom techniques with seven enlargers and Maggie combining and creating images in Photoshop. Jerry realizes that he has limited possibilities using the traditional techniques, but he is comfortable with those techniques. Part of art-making is about process and your relationship to the processes you use. I took to digital processing quite well. Like Maggie Taylor, I'll happily spend hours, even days, at the computer working on one image to achieve the look I want. I also spend hours behind the camera. For my Awakenings exhibit, I took many, many shots spring flowers on 14 separate days.

'Dogwood Buds', Digital print, Martha Weintraub.
Philip: What determines your choice of subject matter?

Martha: Flowers continue to attract me as a subject matter—there is so much variety in color, size, and texture. I've done three shows at Gallery 14 based on flowers, beginning with my first show, Nature's Dancers. I could not/would not have been able to create those images using a film camera because they involved photographing flowers as I twirled them. There was quite a bit of experimentation involved before discovering what amount of light, what shutter speed, what speed of twirling worked best. I found that images that contained some sharpness worked best. I used my “dancing flowers” again in another show, Paranormal Parfumerie.

'Cotillion', digital print, Martha Weintraub
Some combination of discovery and imagination and sometimes seeing what other photographers are working on informs my other subject matter choices.  My Still Lifes with Fruit exhibit began because I was compelled to capture the beauty of some Rainier cherries I'd bought. Currently, I'm beginning to work on an exhibit to show in October about books—images that I hope will capture the magic of books. I'm going to be experimenting with several kinds of media, including gel transfers of photographs and encaustic. This is obviously a period of great transition, what with e-books becoming more and more prevalent, so much so that Borders and other big-box book stores are having to rethink their business model. Perhaps this will mean a come-back for the small, independent bookstore. When I began to think about doing this exhibit, I discovered books as art, a huge art form that I had been unaware of. I may attempt to create my own art books for the exhibit.

'Tempest', work in progress, Martha Weintraub
Philip: You refer on your artist’s statement to “the inner landscape”. Could you elaborate on that?

Martha: I like the idea of a genie or muse that visits artists when they are paying attention.  Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, has a wonderful, inspiring talk on www.ted.com that relates to this idea.

Since becoming a member of a cooperative gallery, Gallery 14 (http://photogallery14.com/), my photography is about creating an exhibit that has some kind of coherence. When I'm working on a project I sometimes wake up in the morning with an image fully formed in my mind. I rush to the computer to try to realize that image. Other times, I'll wake up with the solution to how to create an image that I've previously thought of. That inner landscape has to do with paying attention to what your muse brings to you.

Philip: A topical question: what role is the internet/new media playing in promoting your work?

Martha: My work is on the Internet both on my personal website (www.marthaweintraub.com) and the website of Gallery 14. I have had some inquiries from people who found me through these sites. Some of the inquiries were from people geographically distant. These would not have occurred without the websites.

Philip: You show your work regularly at Gallery 14, in Hopewell, NJ. What can you tell us about the gallery, and your involvement with it?

Martha: I joined Gallery 14 in 2005. It is a cooperative gallery with fewer than 20 photographers dedicated to exhibiting and selling fine art photography. Gallery 14 also serves as a gathering place where photographers in the Princeton and central New Jersey area can exhibit, teach, work, and learn. A photo discussion group meets at the gallery regularly.  This means that all members share in the management and cost of running the gallery. I'm currently serving as president. We introduce a new exhibit about once every five weeks. The discipline of producing an exhibit at least once or twice a year keeps me productive.


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