If you’ve seen Cade Martin‘s work, you’ll know he adds a touch of the surreal in his imagery. His imagination is on full display in his work for Savannah Tourism. We took one look at this project and wanted to visit this Savannah dreamland. Our first stop; asking Cade to tell us about how he arrived with the final images. Here is what he shared.
Savannah couldn’t be more beautiful. Was the brief spelled out with locations pre-scripted? Was there any flexibility?
It’s true, having Savannah as the backdrop is a great jumping-off point. And the city did the heavy lifting and provided a natural thread as far as image continuity.
As often happens with a project like this, we allowed location to lead us a bit. We scouted locations and backed into the brief narratives based on where we wanted to shoot. It was a team effort working with Creative Director Glenn Bowman and the team at Paradise Advertising. Flexibility, comfort level, and openness were vital – we ping-ponged ideas back and forth, settling collaboratively on the right marriage of location and story.
Your work finds you chasing characters and stories, and you wouldn’t have it any other way. Steeped in history, Savannah has a lot of stories to tell. How did you go about choosing the narratives you wanted to bring to life?
Savannah is a city full of character and characters. It’s an utterly singular city that makes you feel something – the heat, the history, the mystery, the color – and I wanted to be sure that the images conveyed that depth. Beyond the “pretty” and “fun” standard tourism narratives, I wanted to reveal those layers that make up the complex character of Savannah. With any great character, you want to know more, what’s next, what will they do, I wanted these images to invoke that same curiosity and sense of adventure. Where is that tandem bike heading? What’s through that window? I wanted to invite the viewer into the image in search of what’s beyond it.
Was there anything out of the ordinary with this shoot that presented challenges? How did you overcome them?
Making images to convey the unique personality and character of one of the most iconic American cities was the best kind of challenge. It’s not always an easy task to show something new and eye-catching about an often photographed city, full of so many postcard-ready scenes. These images are grounded in the well-documented historical grandeur and natural beauty of Savannah. We made them pop with a wink of surreal Southern charm that draws the eye back for a fresh look at a familiar city.
Films and comics are highly influential in your work, especially the lack of boundaries in each. How did you go about making the Savannah Tourism images evoke the feeling of a frame out of a filmstrip?
As Popeye says “I yam what I yam” and “I yam” a guy who really loves film and comics. From lighting to boundaries, they influence my work in different but consistent ways.
There is a natural link between this answer and my answer on characters – I wanted the images to invoke a curiosity of what was happening next, just beyond the captured scene. The relationship between the people and their surroundings begs the creation of a larger narrative from the viewer. There is also a suggestion of movement in each image that leads us past that captured moment. The viewer sees a bicycle heading down the street, the next step up a ladder, the rise of a little girl holding a giant pinwheel. Each image is meant to feel like a captured moment in a story, not the whole story.
You have said you use post-production as a time of experimentation. Did you walk into this shoot with a plan to add magic in post for every single shot or is that something that happened organically with just a few?
My photographic vision is rooted in imagination; sparks of spontaneity always inspire me – elements easily found in a place like Savannah. The website and print campaign for Visit Savannah was right up my alley – character and a little magic.
I never try not to be heavy-handed in post-production. Instead, I try to have the subjects there, actually on location, so everything is grounded in the real world and does not feel photo illustrational. As someone whose work has incorporated elements of the surreal, I am conscious of the need to retain photographic integrity. Even the most fantastic images, aided by the newest tools of post-production, remain tethered to the truth of the subject. The thread of authenticity remains, it’s never an effort to trick the viewer, but to reveal something.
In your work, you learned to be comfortable with the unknown, taking you to far off places; finding beauty in the unfamiliar. Many of your projects have brought you to the South. What is your connection to this part of the country?
I grew up in Richmond, Virginia, and I’ve been fortunate to travel some of the world. There’s something about the South that has brought me back time and again. I feel connected to the creative spirit of the South, to both the home and deep history. It’s hard to explain, like magic a bit, but there is a flavor to the air. I return for the characters, as well as the humility and southern hospitality.
Cade has made it his mission to chase characters and stories. Follow him on Instagram to see his imagination at work; finding beauty in the unfamiliar.