While many people perpetually fixate their gaze on their phones, even when strolling down the street, photographer Martha Gabriela Driessen is on the lookout for her next best shot. The striking images she’s captured over the past two years traveling throughout the world will soon be on display for her “Happenstance” exhibition at the Traffic Zone Gallery.
Driessen, who is a Mexico City native and a graduate of the University of St. Thomas, became enthralled with photography as a teenager after receiving a Polaroid camera as a gift. Learning how to use a dark room furthered her interest, as did being exposed to the work of Mexican photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo and Italian photographer Tina Modotti. Their nostalgic and romantic aesthetic was highly influential in Driessen’s own artistic development. “They portrayed the Mexican culture in a beautiful way that wasn’t obvious,” she says.
Driessen was also drawn to street photography. “I felt like I wanted to be where they were and see what they saw.”
On a whim, the self-taught photographer began taking photos of strangers while out walking. She fell in love with the anticipation, the surprise, and that magical moment when the shutter clicks. “If I’m really lucky, I feel that I will find the human spirit right down the street,” she says. Among her subjects are Cuban mothers watching a children’s baseball game, Guatemalan girls rushing to their quinceañera ceremonies, and women outside of the Eyüp Sultan Mosque after Friday prayer.
Though she was wary of people’s reactions at first, she soon realized most people either don’t notice her taking pictures in public, or if they do, they don’t seem to mind. Children are especially eager to be captured by Driessen’s lens; adults occasionally strike up conversation. “Most strangers are very nice and interesting people,” she says.
While Driessen doesn’t necessarily prefer black-and-white to color, the majority of her work is in the former vein, and she hasn’t yet felt the need to switch. “The endless shades of gray are very exciting,” she says. “You can bring out texture and give depth. The composition is very different in black-and-white than in color; you take different things into consideration. Black-and-white is very pure, classic, and timeless.”
Driessen’s work has been entered in numerous juried art shows, and is collected privately in the U.S., Mexico, and Argentina. A selection of her photography from Cuba, titled Havana, was published in 2014. The “Happenstance” exhibit will consist of between 20 and 40 prints taken on Driessen’s journeys through Argentina, Cuba, India, Istanbul, Mexico, and Minnesota.
“Each one is a carefully crafted image that will allow people to see candidness and happenstance, but as a whole these photographs will allow people to see the beauty of everyday life,” she says. “I want my work to provide a space for the ordinary and the conventional because I believe it’s those moments that, collectively, make life extraordinary.”
IF YOU GO:
"Happenstance: A Collection of Street Photographs by Martha Gabriela Driessen"
Traffic Zone Gallery
There will be a public reception Thursday, February 4, from 6 to 9 p.m.
Traffic Zone Gallery
The show runs January 29 through March 11