Martyn Thompson is a New York-based fashion photographer and decorative artist. After studying at the University of Sydney, his work in the fashion industry took him to London, Paris and finally landed him in New York City. At his home/studio/showroom in SoHo, we spoke to Martyn about his artistic evolution, the old New York and his boyfriend’s cactus collection.
Hey Martyn, can you start by telling us about your creative background?
I went to University of Sydney and studied English literature, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I’d been in bands and used to go out a lot—I loved nightclubs, I loved dressing up. I was really interested in clothes, so I started painting fabrics and making clothes. I started selling those clothes to boutiques, I opened my own shop and slowly, I started photographing the clothes, and that’s what led me into fashion photography.
How did you end up in SoHo?
[Fashion photography] led me to Paris which led me to London, which led me here.
Did it inspire you then as a place?
I think it did because it had a feeling of New York. I loved the cobblestone streets, the old factory element. I loved the size of the buildings; they were big but not intimidating. I still don’t like going to Midtown. But here [SoHo] it’s a really comfortable ratio; it’s beautiful.
How was it being in New York for the first time in the eighties?
For me, New York was a dream. I was super excited to come here, but I couldn’t believe how run down it was. I thought it was gonna be more Blade Runner-y, but it wasn’t. It was really, really scary. The first time I came here [in 1982] I got mugged twice; it was a dangerous place. You had to watch your back all the time. The first time I came down to SoHo, there was nothing at all, or that’s how it looked. The city was only populated in pockets and the whole perimeter of the city was still industrial. So the place I remember is a little bit like what it was like during Hurricane Sandy—the darkness and the quietness and the slightly threatening quality. [But] I hardly ever saw it during the day cause I went out all night, every night.
Getting back to your photography and art—what’s been your evolution as an artist and what are you up to now?
Fashion photography slowly morphed into other areas of photography, particularly interiors. People say my photography is very textural and tactile and in the last decade I’ve spent a lot of time experimenting. I came across this opportunity to reproduce a photo as a tapestry and then it was fabrics, clothes, interiors, pillows, upholstery. It started to make sense, since I was looking for something new in my work. I’d always worked in interiors and fashion—I was familiar with the world already. So that’s how the textiles came about.
How long have you been working with fabrics?
I’ve been doing it for two and a half years and I really love it. I’m still using my photography to make the original designs, but I love being engaged in a new way. I love new things because there’s always a learning process involved. There’s a sort of trial and error that’s very satisfying.
Are the processes similar?
In many senses it’s similar to doing a series of photos. I’m often referencing my catalogue of work, so I might find a photo I like and think, “Oh that could work well for fabrics,” and I’ll look around with what else I have to go with it. And then I might take some more photos. So it’s sort of like building a series of images, but you’re turning them into a fabric. It’s a really similar process.
You mentioned your love of anything new—how is that reflected in your everyday life and in your art?
I’m a big believer in instinct. The hardest lesson for me has been to trust my instincts, because that’s what leads me from one thing to the next. I think I can get tired of things easily, which I’m trying to temper. Part of doing a collection is that everything goes together—whether it’s flowers or spots or the next thing: they all live harmoniously in our slightly eclectic world.
Can you talk about your vision for your personal and creative space?
This space is ever changing, depending on what I’m doing. A loft space is pretty versatile; you don’t have a lot of walls determining what the function of a room is. Lately, we want it to be more of a showroom, but it could become an artist’s studio, junk everywhere, or it could be a polished home as well. It’s like dressing, and I think most of my work is about dressing, styling, because a big part of my photography is establishing the environment. That’s what I’m good at, being able to adapt to whatever the needs are at the time.
The cactus collection is a great touch.
Well that is not my cactus collection. It’s my boyfriend’s cactus collection, because he thinks it’s really important to have something living in a space. And what’s funny is they really thrive here. It’s really curious to watch things grow, because they grow towards the light.
As a photographer, you must have a serious relationship with light.
Natural light is so important for me. I take most of my photos with natural light. The light in a space will be a deciding factor on whether I did, or didn’t, like it. My pictures in general are about the light.