To see more of Jack's photography and writing, check out his website: https://www.ohjackmartin.com/
You’re a skilled photographer adept at capturing portraits in addition to organic and urban landscapes. Where have you been focusing your creative energies at this time?
Thank you so much! This has been a very strange time for me and for many other artists as well. In the beginning – when all of the hospitals were being filled and there were virtually no tests – I got sick. I managed to get tested for the flu, which came back negative. I was out of work for about three weeks, resting and recovering. After that, I came back to work with reduced hours, and had a lot of time to focus on whatever I wanted to. Mostly, my self-isolation/quarantine days are spent writing (poetry), and working on put off projects. For instance, I created a rolling backdrop for my art room. It was a fun project, because working with my hands offered a creative satisfaction.
Recently, I’ve been taking caution and going out more. On my days off from work, I’ve been driving alone to some smaller, surrounding cities to take photos. I’ve also been processing and scanning film at home more frequently.
Regulars at Little River Coffee Bar and The Pharmacy will recognize you as one of their favorite baristas. As a service-industry worker, what does working life look like for you right now?
There is a lot of nuance and mixed feelings for many people working in service industries all over right now – including myself. I am so thankful to still be working for a company that feels like family. It’s been pretty hard with how sporadic things have been. When you’re given a day or two notice between drastic changes in the ways that you have to work and interact with others. It’s also strange being labeled as an “essential worker” when you know that the work you’re doing isn’t saving lives, but I also think it’s good to provide at least a small sliver of what feels like “normalcy” to the community you’re participating in. That’s important too right now.
Times of crisis have the power to reveal broken systems and bring about change. What do you think COVID-19 has revealed about the food and dining industry? What changes do you hope to see?
Personally, I think this goes beyond the food and dining industry. In my mind there’s a big difference between “essential” and “convenient”. Many people will go to a restaurant, see that it’s open, thank god, and praise you for doing good work. While in many other places (like Japan right now), the sick and the healthcare professionals who are treating them are being discriminated towards and completely ostracized. People getting sick isn’t convenient for a lot of people and therefore human lives aren’t being counted as essential as much as being able to pick up your favorite coffee drink, or schedule an appointment for a haircut. I don’t have a hard, fast answer for what I think needs to be changed, which is a scary place to be in, honestly.
I'm interested in discussions of both loss and gain. Personally, and professionally, what has been the hardest to lose at this time? What have you been offered that surprised you?
I definitely feel like I’ve lost a lot physically, starting in December. I’ve lost jobs, friendships, touch with friends, a phone, a car, at one point I was facing eviction. It’s been a really tough year so far for me. As far as what I’ve gained, I’m not sure. I may be just nearing the end of my process of loss. So far, I think I have a clearer (albeit a very slightly more clear) sense of who I am and what I want and the directions I want to go both personally and artistically. (The real Covid was the friends we made along the way.)
You’re also a talented poet who’s begun to share original poetry on virtual platforms. Has social distancing inspired you to connect with art-lovers outside of your usual/local networks?
Thank you. It’s funny that you say that. Originally, I started sharing poetry publicly online in 2017. That kind of fell off when I started taking my photography a little more seriously. Writing was my first love and I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember, and I’ve never stopped. Self-isolation was just the perfect vehicle to bring it back to the forefront in the spaces that I enjoy sharing art because I couldn’t go out and make photos in the ways that I enjoy practicing photography.
Social distancing, I think, has kind of forced creators to connect in nonphysical, non-traditional ways. It’s not just me deciding to share more things that I have written, it’s also Aurora Masum-Javed (HCWP’s Writer-in-Residence) deciding to host a poetry writing workshop twice a week, it’s MJ Eastin (screenwriter/producer) deciding to create a collaborative project that brings together artists across several different mediums together, it’s a community endeavor.
You’re a big proponent of self-care. Have recent events changed the way you give back to yourself? What is functioning as a balm for you?
The main thing is finding and refining what “routine” looks like for me. It’s taking care of my living space. It’s taking care of my plants because if I don’t consistently tend to them, they could die and in order to consistently tend to my surroundings, I have to consistently tend to myself. Some things that I’ve been doing besides tending to my home have been connecting with friends and loved ones virtually whenever I can, catching up on that television show because I haven’t watched TV in months, picking a direction and driving for hours with no real destination (especially this one), and doing the things I love, like writing and making photos.
Thank you so much for reaching out and asking for my thoughts. Artists interacting with artists, and just people sharing in community is what we need. Even virtually. Especially now.
Jack Martin is a black American poet and freelance photographer. He is a founding member of Baby Teeth, a Greenville-based poetry collective, and his work has appeared in PHEMME. He currently lives and works in Spartanburg, South Carolina.