Classic Vessel’s Demise Leads to New Found Hobby

Tuesday, July 09, 2002
A revelation pays off for photographer Martin Cox, who at just seven years old, realized that he was drawn to landscapes or places that beg a question — such as what happened? Originally from the U.K., Cox turned his passion into a reality with his focus on the wonders of industrial marinescapes, (as pictured here) in addition to his fascination with the American landscape. Los Angeles, Calif.-based photographer Martin Cox had a revelation when he was just seven years old that he wanted to pursue the art of photography. Cox, who was born and raised in the maritime mecca of Southampton, U.K., can vividly recall the day Cunard's original Queen Mary set off on its final voyage from the port city. "When I was seven years old, something happened that was to complicate my life," Cox said. "I witnessed the final departure of the British Ocean Liner Queen Mary on her farewell voyage from Southampton." Cox was filled with emotion and sadness. "The public outpouring of emotion is something that struck me deeply," he said. "Ten thousand people (many weeping) lining the wharves and beaches." Receiving his first camera as a teenager, Cox began to explore what later became his vocation, by focusing on industrial and urban sites — a theme, which has literally stayed with him his entire life. After graduating with a fine arts degree from England's Exeter College of Art and Design, Cox made his first trans-Atlantic journey to the U.S. where he was fascinated by the landscapes of the great West — mainly California, Arizona and New Mexico. Upon his return from the States, he moved form Exeter to London where he readied his black and white prints for potential exhibition, which eventually happened in 1984. The subject of Cox's first U.S. exhibition, which was held at San Francisco State University Art Gallery focused on images of desolate valleys left in the wake of the collapsed mining industry of South Wales. A resident of Los Angeles since 1990, Cox's travels and exhibitions have taken him to a variety of jaunts since his first exhibition more than 15 years ago — with his current maritime imagery "representing a return to his visual roots" as he continues to focus on industrial marinescapes. In his own words, Cox has literally, "instilled the same emotional intensity and mystery from the earlier desert landscapes - now transposed on to maritime and industrial themes." MR/EN was able to catch up with Cox between assignments to discuss his philosophies on maritime photography, photography, as well as his fascinations with the American landscape. Maritime Reporter: In your eyes, what makes something an interesting subject to shoot? Martin Cox: I am drawn to landscapes or places that beg a question — "What happened here?", "Why is it like this?" A sense of mystery draws me to choose my subject, which oftentimes involves structures. Whether they are rail lines, partially dismantled buildings, or mine workings, landscapes that reflect human activity recently or long ago. I work in lonely, isolated places and seldom photograph people through their actions are implied by the landscapes I choose. MR: As a photographer/artist, what drives you? MC: I see when I shoot. I look for the imprint the culture makes on the world. The subjects of my pictures teach me about the world and connect invisible strands together. I never saw the links eroded hillsides and rusted ships until I shot them. I am fascinated by places that have been acted upon by water, either flood, a tide or a dry lake bed, so naturally photographing ships and vessels comes in to this. I grew up in the Port city of Southampton, England and ships have been on my mind as long as I can remember. Their unique profiles coming and going from the port formed my visual background. MR: What types of preliminary work do you have to do to prepare for a shoot? MC: I am interested in history and often spend time researching a vessel's history or the history of a port or place that I then go to shoot in. Or sometimes the place comes first, I am compelled by the look of the place then learn how it got to look like that. I write a news column for the Steamship Historical Society and when I talk with public relations departments of contemporary cruise lines they are always more than happy to have me come aboard to shoot and see their ships. I sail when I can the last of the older pre-jet age ships when I can, for example, Rembrandt, Oceanbreeze, Independence and visit such beauties as the former Cunard vessel Albastros, the old Union Castle liner now Big Red Boat III. MR: What other projects (shipping or otherwise) are you currently pursuing? MC: Presently I am working on a black & white photography exhibition using a only toy camera called a "diana camera" the blurry impressionist prints will be exhibited at FOTOTEKA in Los Angeles in October 2002, the theme is The Rural Idyll. I have been taking pictures of where the natural landscape intersects with a manmade one though Roman roads, agriculture, canals and rail linen rural Wales, North Devon and Southern England. I am also pursuing an exhibition of large full color prints on cruise ship interiors, and working on a documentary landscape show and video of the making of a ghost town in the Mojave Desert, again it's a landscape and place in transition.
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