David Martinez Creates a Fitting Study of Contrasts
The New York City streets of today, vastly different from the everyday hustle and bustle, are empty except the handful of people that are on the front lines. The arrival of COVID-19 and the ushering in of sheltering in place brings an NYC no one is quite used to seeing. In his imagery, David Martinez regularly takes a minimalistic approach, removing what isn’t needed, bringing beauty by capitalizing on simplicity. Before the pandemic arrived, David produced a dramatic collection of work with a dancer in the empty streets of Soho, having no inkling that these images would soon reflect the reality we see today. We asked him to tell us about the project he calls “Body.”
When I started this project several months ago, I knew I wanted to use Soho in New York City as the stage for a solitary dancer moving through a city street. I wanted to show the texture of the weathered cobblestone streets and the classic architecture of Soho. The contrast of a solitary, graceful dancer moving through the grandeur and grit of the Soho streets appealed to me.
As I scouted the area, I was taken with the volume of people and human energy that flowed through this busy neighborhood. The hustle of the crowded streets filled me with an energy and connectedness that is so unique to New York City. I knew it was going to be challenging to find a time that would allow for the dancer to move freely – without too many people around.
My crew and I arrived before sunrise to ensure that we would have the street to ourselves. It’s an odd thing to be on the streets of New York before the rest of the city. The look and feel is so linked to the humanity in it. I shot uninterrupted for about two hours – then slowly but steadily, the area began to fill with people.
Walking in the streets today, with everyone sheltering in place, it’s reminiscent of that morning of our shoot – the strange quiet that pervades our streets without the buzz of humanity. Like many I’m sure, I long for a walk on a busy city street and miss my daily interactions with people in my neighborhood.
I’ve photographed dancers throughout my career – it’s an art form that has always filled me with awe and optimism. This project was no different – I inspired by the combination of grace and strength of this talented young dancer named Umi; I fell in love with the beauty of New York City streets all over again. These photographs and video piece strike me as a very different time than the times we currently find ourselves in – but they also live as a reminder of everything that I love about photography and art. It crystallizes a moment of simplicity – being inspired by a city and a young artist moving within it.