Monterrey GIF Master Jaime Martinez Talks Working for M.I.A. and Forging New Horizons of Photography

When GIFs emerged in 1987, few could have imagined the surge in popularity they would gain over the next three decades. While GIFs started off as a way to add a touch of humor to internet chats and MySpace profiles, Monterrey-born Jaime Martinez immediately saw this format as a space to explore a new horizon of photography.

Martinez, who calls himself a GIF photographer, was one of the first to create GIFs out of original photographs in 2007, a time when GIFs were typically made from video clips found on the web. But what caught the attention of bloggers, photographers, and ultimately M.I.A, who signed him onto her record label in 2009, was his stereoscopic GIFs — a twitchy photograph giving off the illusion of depth.

Yet even as an innovator in GIF photography, Martinez’s rebloggable factor may be traced back to the openness he displays in his work, often capturing everyday moments of his friends and family. Martinez explains that his family’s photo albums were one of his first inspirations and remain an underlying influence of his style. Taking this into account, one may argue that his photography doubles as archives and have adapted our nostalgic desire into the modern era.

I met with Jaime, fittingly, on the internet, for a Skype interview to discuss his affinity for GIFs, dreams of creating an app, and the nostalgic origins of his photographs.


M.I.A. Photo GIF by Jaime Martinez
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You work in various formats, yet you are known more for your GIFs. What drew you to this format?
The reason I started to work with GIFs was, at first, it was not so serious at the time. I’m talking about 2008 and 2009, the last good moments of MySpace. I first wanted to make GIFs to use them for comments or to “pimp” my profile. To make my background more flashy. As soon as I learned the technique I felt like this was a different way of expression, somewhere between video and photography. I felt and still feel it is closer to photography than video because it doesn’t have audio. So for me it was like an extension of photography, like stretching photography in a new dimension. It could be in the dimension of time or depth in the case of 3D photography.

Before I started to work with GIFs, I always liked to make experiments with my photos. Before GIFs, I was doing a lot of collages, for example. One of my rules with collages was that I always wanted to work with my own pictures, not use other photos from the web. I like to have control of all the images I work with, so when I started to make GIFs I did the same thing.

Whenever you started working with GIFs, how did others react to what you were doing?
The reactions were really good since the beginning, because I learned the technique of how to make GIFs quickly, and in a few weeks I also learned how to make 3D GIFs. It is the more recognized part of my work, the 3D GIFs, which are stereoscopic GIFs made with a 3-D camera. I got a 3D camera and by coincidence or luck it was the exact time when Tumblr was starting to get more popular. I started to blog these GIFs and, as you know in Tumblr, you have the ability to reblog, which was a good thing for my GIFs. As I already had some followers on MySpace, I got a few hundreds or thousands soon on Tumblr, so they started to get viral really quick.

Photo GIF by Jaime Martinez
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It seems that engaging with social media for example on MySpace, Tumblr and Instagram has always been a part of who you are as an artist. How important has social media been for the development of your artwork?
For me, social media has been always very important. Partly because I’m very bad at selling my work with words or convincing people that my work is good. I’m a bad agent of my own work. With social media, I saw the opportunity to let my own works speak for themselves. You just blog your work and you don’t need to convince people why it is good or why they have to like it. You just do it and you try to get better and they like it and they give likes or comments or reblogs and that’s how you start to gain followers.

Before social media – I’m talking about the beginning of the 2000s –I was sending mail to magazines, or going to interviews, or participating in competitions. I was selected in a few competitions, nothing big, but I never got good answers from magazines. So when I started to use MySpace, for example, I said to myself ‘I’m done with magazines.’ The important thing is to gain more followers. Starting in 2007, I decided it was more important to focus on the Internet because it was growing, mainly on social media and Facebook.

Photo GIF by Jaime Martinez
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When looking at your artwork, it comes off as very social media friendly in the sense that you tend to share relatable and intimate moments of your friends or loved ones. Can you explain what inspired you to take this personal approach to your photos?
Since the beginning, my style has been very personal. I have always mixed my art portfolio and my personal visual diary, the pictures I take everyday. Since I got a smartphone a few years ago, I’ve been taking more pictures with my phone when I’m on the street, or with my friends, or with my girlfriend. I’m always taking pictures and of those, I select some for photo exhibitions, or people ask me for to use them for CD covers or for web pages.

Right, so you’ve said you use your phone increasingly. Are there any new apps you’re interested in using and experimenting with?
Yes, I’m always looking for new apps to experiment with, especially those for GIFs or 3D photos. I’ve been trying these apps, but usually I’m not very convinced by them. I’ve been publishing some of these experiments – but in the end, when I want to do something well I still use my camera and Photoshop. You have more options to customize your GIFs or your videos when you do them using big software. I am still very curious about apps because some day I hope to develop an app to make GIFs or photos or something. That’s what I have had in mind lately.

Photo GIF by Jaime Martinez
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In one of your past interviews, you mentioned some of the imagery in your photographs comes from dreams. Is that still true?
Lately more than dreams, I think I’m inspired by reality, the urban landscapes. In my latest series of urban portraits, my main purpose is to have a character in the forefront, a woman looking mysterious and pretty and magical. But in the background, I want to have cars and the people you see everyday. I want to preserve these pictures. I want to look at them in 10 or 20 years, and all the things in the background will show how life was in this time. How people were dressing in these times, how the cars looked, the advertisements. I like to see pictures of Mexico City in the 70s or 60s. There were a few photographers that were already taking this approach at that time, so I take my inspiration from them.

Do you think you’re a nostalgic person and that inspires you to take photographs?
Yes, a lot. When I started to do photography as a teenager, it was my main motivation. I have been very nostalgic since I was a kid. I was like seven years old and I was already very nostalgic. I don’t know how, but I would look at things and think, ‘Oh, this will be different in a few years.’ So when my father gave me my first camera when I was like 15 or 16, I saw in the camera a magical object to capture a moment, to freeze reality, to keep it forever. It was and still is one of the main reasons I take pictures, because I want to keep these moments for me when I am older and for my children, (if I have children), and for my nephews, other family members and friends, and any other person in the future. I like to share what I was looking at and what was important for me. I like to think I am sharing this for people in the future.