"Meet Your Tech" is a Q&A series that introduces current and prospective students to the multi-faceted artists and technicians who not only keep Herron's studios running but also serve as instructors and mentors.
If you visit the basement of Eskenazi Hall for a class, the facilities, or a student-run exhibition, you'll almost certainly run into Benjamin Martinkus, Herron's photography technician.
Martinkus has been a fixture in the photography program since 2012, serving on both Herron's staff and faculty teams, as all technicians do due to the nature of their work. He counsels students on all aspects of their image-making studies and teaches a wide range of courses, from Introduction to Photographic Processes (HER-K 201) to Interdisciplinary Collaboration in the Visual Arts (HER-R 529).
HERRON: What do you love most about photography?
BENJAMIN MARTINKUS: For me, photography, and image-making in general, is a gateway to understanding semiotics. It sounds fancy, but it isn't really. Images can reveal how we perceive what we see. The personal, political, and psychological connotations of everything around us directly impact us in real-time. Image awareness can lead to cognitive clarity, or understanding images can help us understand how we think.
HERRON: Viewership and critical discourse is an ongoing component of your work. How do you see visual artists actively engaging with viewers and passing down ideas?
MARTINKUS: For years, I have watched "viewership" morph in response to what's happening in the world. The world has recently been tense and reactionary. I hear many people talking about what they witness (or see) and how unjust it is. Often I agree with these points of view, but I also fear that as artists, we "image" that unjust otherness too clearly. We are not that different from those whom we find objectionable. Artists could/should offer a third option that breaks long-standing binaries, such as just/unjust. It is a very tricky thing, but I think viewership can cultivate responsibility. Critical thinking can lead to healthy self-criticism.
Seeing artists challenging authority and speaking out is an old, albeit valuable, behavior. We need more of a nuanced approach in which individuals speak critically to one another to achieve personal accountability. I've seen students use this laudable method increasingly over the years. I think faculty might be catching on as well — I am trying to.
HERRON: What is the primary focus of your art practice right now?
MARTINKUS: I am concerned with offering, or imaging, a response to what is happening in my community. Whether the work is video-graphic, refinished furniture, or an unorthodox print, I try to present something reactive. I take pains to question my status and produce new questions in lieu of answers. I try to make it as personal as possible for me as well as the viewer.