Get Familiar: Martika Avalon de Sanders
Interview by Passion Dzenga | Photography by Martika Avalon de Sanders
Introducing Martika Avalon de Sanders, a talented photographer, born and raised in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. With a passion for visual artistry since childhood, Martika pursued her love for photography and quickly made a name for herself in the industry. Her portfolio includes working with prominent fashion brands, musicians, athletes, celebrities, and bestselling authors both locally and internationally.
Martika's clean, minimalistic, and colourful style with a strong point of view has won her critical acclaim. She has travelled extensively, capturing the beauty of people and places that inspire her work. Martika's work is a testament to her unique ability to find beauty in everything and everyone she encounters through her lens. Join us as we get familiar with her new book "Seat at the Table", delve into her life, and journey, and learn more about her creative process.
How did your love for photography start and what made you pursue it as a career?
Photography and editing just started as a hobby. At the time, I was finishing my HAVO while simultaneously studying at Lucia Marthas Dance Academy. I always knew I wanted to discover other creative fields like interior design, fashion and photography but never really had the time to, because of my busy schedule. After graduating high school, I decided to quit dancing completely and quite randomly took a chance at photography. I promised myself that I had to finish my bachelor's at Fotovakschool Amsterdam no matter what, and had to give it a serious try. I started without any technical experience or knowing whether I was talented enough or not.
Can you walk us through your experience interning with renowned photographer Pamela Hanson in New York City?
After getting my bachelor degree in Photographic design I was advised to gain some practical experience, so I started looking for an internship. I always had a dream of living / studying abroad and New York seemed like the perfect place for photography. I went to New York without any knowledge on how to find an internship but ended up finding a spot through a friend of a friend. 4 Months later I could start. A whole world opened up to me as I experienced how big Pamela's team was on set and how many people were involved in paying attention to the tiniest details. I understood there was a different level of professionalism. Everyone had their own job and assistants. I was just merely there to observe. I can't say I gained a lot of technical knowledge but I did get a good insight into the production aspect of the job and an understanding of what the daily life of a successful female photographer looked like.
How would you describe your style of photography and how do you make sure your images are unique?
I would like to describe my style as clean, minimalistic and usually colorful, with a strong point of view. I am naturally more curious to the person behind the image than the clothes or the concept, and try to focus more on their personality and unique beauty. This is why I gradually shifted from shooting mostly 'beauty' to 'portrait' over the years. My personal style and way of editing is what make my photographs unique.
Your clients include bestselling authors, large fashion companies, athletes, musicians and celebrities, how do you manage to attract such a diverse range of clients?
I think as a photographer you rely on your network a lot and people need to feel comfortable around you. Travelling has also helped me connect to people of many different backgrounds and industries and I don't have any issues adapting to different surroundings and people. Improvising and constantly having new faces in front of your lens is what makes the job interesting.
How does your work as a photographer feed into your wanderlust and how does travel inspire your work?
What is traveling without taking photos? For me, travel is my biggest inspiration and an opportunity to discover more about other cultures, fashion, design and nature. When I travel I can create space to play without any pressure of sticking to a certain concept. Photography is my job but it's also a lifestyle for me. I capture everything that is esthetically pleasing or interesting to me and in that way I collect ideas.
What's your creative process like when working with a new subject, how do you capture their true essence and bring out their unique beauty?
My photography is literally a reflection of what I choose to see in a person or place in that moment. Where other people see nothing, I can see beauty.
I think great photography has a lot to do with a level of taste, observation skills and bringing the energy to a space for people to get comfortable and open up.
How has your photography changed and evolved over the years and in what direction do you see it going?
I became more interested in shooting portraits because it gives you the opportunity to look for beauty and find it in more unexpected places. Before I used to shoot a lot of 'picture perfect' beauty shots because I had the eye for it. But over time the personality part became more interesting than just capturing the right shot. In the future, I could also see myself shooting more lifestyle and travel. I would like to get to a point in my career where I could take a year off, travel, shoot around, and use my photography more as an art form.
Can you talk about your experience working in Amsterdam and Los Angeles and why you plan to relocate to California in the near future?
I'm actually still figuring out whether I want to move to Los Angeles or not. New York has always felt more like home, but Los Angeles seemed easier to land. My experience is that people in The States react more positively to seeing a black female behind the camera compared to Amsterdam. Its now slowly shifting here but in the beginning, I got mistaken for being the model a lot and felt like clients didn't always take me seriously right away. I felt much more supported out there. Relocating to LA was definitely the idea prior to the pandemic because of my network there and the opportunities. However, I'm now reconsidering all my initial plans as the world is still recovering and the industry has shifted a little.
How do you keep pushing yourself creatively and stay inspired in a constantly evolving industry?
Besides photography, I'm also tapping into creative direction more and more, so I can get full control of the concept and get more freedom to execute my own ideas.I feel like today's fashion and beauty industry is quite oversaturated and so fast-paced that it's a matter of filtering what's interesting to you and what's not.
Can you share a particularly memorable project or photo shoot that you have worked on and what made it special for you?
My most recent project "Seat at the Table." has definitely been the most memorable and challenging one. Together with my longtime friend Racky Westrik we created a coffee table book about Dutch-based Black creatives that shape today's culture. We've highlighted around 50 Black creatives who work behind the scenes in the fashion, art, film and music industries to celebrate their careers and to inspire the next generation.
Having all these stories collected in a book is powerful to me because they are very relatable and real. Representation is essential if we'd like to see a lasting difference and in this way, I feel like we can do our part by sharing examples of people that inspire us. The production of the book took about two years and is self-published, so the struggle was real!