“I Always Want To Tell Stories”: Nikk Martin On His Evocative Photographs – ADC
Nikk Martin’s photographs are hard to encapsulate: suspended in enigmatic narratives, his immaculate compositions are a nuanced interpretation of fashion, documentary, and landscape photography—one that draws viewers in with unique storytelling and vibrancy. Here, the German photographer tells us more about the process and vision behind his many exciting shots.
Originally from Freiburg, in the south of Germany, the 36-year-old photographer bought his first camera less than a decade ago, after moving to Berlin in 2015, where he now resides.The story of how he first got hooked on photography is refreshingly unpretentious: all Martin wanted was to tap into his suppressed creative side. “I grew up in a rather conservative environment,” he explains over the phone. “I always enjoyed drawing and painting. As a young man, I had a lot of creative ideas and would often find myself walking around, capturing sights and fixing memories in my head, as if they were a picture,” he says. Martin had never owned a camera before. “My father used to collect Leicas. He wasn’t a professional photographer, but he knew how the devices worked. I gained some knowledge through him, but I’m mostly self-taught,” he shares. As time passed, the young creative embraced the medium’s capacity to be both descriptive and exciting and started assisting and photographing friends, experimenting in the classic learning-by-doing way. The gradual transition from general reportage-style photography into fashion and landscape photography came only later, naturally through the years.
“My images tend to be described as moody but with a soft and gentle touch”
Today, Martin has an undeniable, brilliant grasp of the technical side of the medium. In less than a decade, he has built a distinctive portfolio that marries visual elements of calmness and the power of simplicity exquisitely. Whether landscapes, emotive close-up portraits, or fashion editorials, his meticulous images are infused with depth and mystery, and informed by delicate lighting, a finesse for color, and a finely tuned eye for proportion and form. “Visual arts, movies, and architecture are my main inspirations,” says Martin; “my creative roots are in that area, and I think my pictures are a direct reflection of that.” What sets his photography apart is the effortless elegance and ethereal air that never fail to attract the viewer’s attention. “My images tend to be described as moody but with a soft and gentle touch,” he explains. “I always bring people who align with my perspective on board—this might be why my vision and look may look similar across all imagery.” Despite the consistency in their aesthetic, each image instigates different nuanced emotions. “I always want to tell stories,” he explains. “Each of my images stands by itself—if you were to put them next to each other, they would tell a completely different story.”
In a highly saturated visual market where originality is often required for, if not synonymous with, success, Martin believes that viewers are moved by honest, compelling work rather than constant newness. “I always try to do whatever I feel or is in my heart. Much of what I create is intuitive and feeling based,” he says. For him, insistently chasing originality is futile, for everything is somehow derivative—we all borrow and adopt. “Sticking to what you do best may work just as well for some. Many great artists have achieved success by staying consistent to a style. They created, repeated, and repeated again. Curiously, in the end, they eventually achieved a sense of originality as well. Art history is living proof of that,” he continues. The photographer finds it hard to define his work as neither original nor static. “I always try to move in different directions, both with my mind and my artistic views. In that sense, my idea of success is different. It is something achieved through everyday discovery and creation from the heart,” he says.
“I like to respond to the person or environment I’m photographing, without bringing too many preconceptions to a shoot”
When shooting an image, Martin is more concerned with capturing the feeling of the moment than impressing his style on it—“there’s so much freedom and excitement in that,” he remarks. The photographer prizes spontaneity and instinct above all else. “I like to respond to the person or environment I’m photographing, without bringing too many preconceptions to a shoot,” he explains. Martin only plans the essentials, such as location and creative team, leaving everything else to chance—the vision slowly unfurling itself. Unsurprisingly, the resulting compositions are as emotional and deliberate as their process. “The one exception to this are models. They are fundamental to me,” he is quick to point out. “I always seek out fresh and diverse models—I’m constantly looking for subjects that are characters.” Scrolling through Martin’s considered portfolio, he engages a diverse range of models across different intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and body shape. And he achieves this to great effect: his stunning images bring out the innate beauty, strength, and character of his subjects, amassing all the emotion within them while leaving a lasting impression on the viewer.
Though embracing change and variety, Martin has one place and motif he enjoys returning to, over and over: South Africa. A land of contrasts and polarizations, with vivid characters and poignant social landscapes, the country has been a magnet for photographers for years. “South Africa holds a special place in my heart,” he shares; “the lighting is simply magical and I’m fascinated by the constantly diverse look of the country. Not surprisingly, creativity thrives in the context of the unknown—it is what causes photographers like Martin to push beyond the obvious. “When I shoot there, I attempt to go beyond borders and boundaries,” he continues, “to capture the land’s diversity but also the vastness of its beauty and the profound culture that oozes from every corner of this place.”
Photography has always been more than a passion to Martin; it has been an invaluable source of growth and personal development. “Engaging myself with my own creativity and image-making has helped me shape who I am today. Meeting new people on shoots, listening to their stories and perspectives, and encountering new ideals of life opened my mind and broadened my horizons and thinking,” he says. “I come from a conservative background and system. Photography and the world around it have taught me about gender, sexuality, race, diversity, and more.It made me liberal and progressive. I used to fear change; now I’m open for it. I crave it,” he continues. If there’s one more quality that adds to Martin’s humility in being open to learning, it is consistency. When asked about his most courageous act to this day, the photographer is quick to respond: “to start doing photography and continue doing it today. I’ve learnt on my own and from my mistakes. Tenacity and persistence are probably the boldest things in this business,” he notes.
Today, this is what Martin hopes people take away from his work and perseverance: to stay curious and look past the megapixels into his varied and fertile imagination. The photographer wants viewers to pause and immerse themselves in the work for longer than a quick scroll on a screen bombarded with content. “I think the biggest compliment is to have people look at my work. Crafting an image requires a lot of time, curation, and effort. I am grateful for the audience to stop and appreciate the photograph—and hopefully feel something in the process.”