Photographer Spotlight Series: Martin Herrerra Soler

Despite his lack of formal training in photography, during the last 5 years of passion and dedication, Martin Herrerra Soler has produced a significant body of work that can be seen on his website. He specializes in award-winning documentary and travel photography based out of Montevideo, Uruguay, from where he performs assignment photography work through out the South America region. His profound interest for the world we live in and a burning desire to share and connect with others through his photography.

1. Based on your work and your writing, it’s quite obvious that you specialize in the beautiful mixture of documentary and travel photography. How did your involvement in the industry begin and is it as competitive as it seems? 

My first thirty years were dedicated to developing the left side of my brain. I spent countless hours solving math and logical puzzles and refining my strategic planning skills to excel in the corporate world. And then in early 2004 something happened… I got my first photography book. That, along with some other elements, conspired to sweep me off my feet and turn my life inside out. So after a twenty-year plus ‘successful’ career in the corporate world, I quit my job and started traveling with my camera. The transition has taken years; I’ve been learning a completely new craft on my own and as I go. This year I took the plunge and decided to solely dedicate my life to photography.

I don’t consider myself a typical travel photographer, but rather a documentary photographer that loves to travel. This has profound implications about how I approach my relationship with the business side of photography. You will rarely find me pitching a story to a magazine or getting called for an assignment. Rather, I work more like a documentary photographer. I’ll conceptualize a project, look for funding and then set myself off to photograph it.

I decided to returned to Uruguay in 2008, moved by, amongst other things, the intention to explore this country, now from the perspective of a photographer. After having lived in so many places, I didn’t really feel like I belonged anywhere. Through photography, I’ve made Uruguay and every day travel assignment. I made it my home and developed a close relationship with aspects of its popular culture that I didn’t even know existed.

2. Could you talk to me about your photographic workflow, about your “ultra-sophisticated backup strategy” and this eternal search you have for finding the perfect camera bag?

Before I truly learned how to use my camera I had already developed my first workflow. I come from a technology background, and as I learned how to connect with my creative side, it was the technical aspects of photography that served as a bridge. I love structure and organization, so for me creating and evolving a workflow it’s actually a meditative activity (I am now, seven years later in version 5).

These days my workflow revolves around the wonderful organizational abilities of Apple Aperture (I am actually a certified instructor). At a ten thousand feet view, the main stages of my workflow are import, editing (creating stacks, selecting keepers, identifying 4 and 5 star images), post-processing, assigning metadata (keywords, categories, IPTC and geo-tagging), sharing (website, online galleries, Facebook and twitter) and finally backup.

My storage strategy in essence boils down to a set of two backup drives for each main working drive that I use to store the source images (two 2TB external eSata Lacie Raid 0 drives). For each working drive where I store my images, there is a mirror onsite drive (that gets copied at the end of the day), and a third mirror offsite drive (that I backup weekly). I also have a Time Machine drive and two additional external drives that mirror my main mac HD drive (where I keep my software) and a second internal drive in my notebook (where I keep my Aperture Library).

As for the quest of the perfect bag, I have concluded there is not one perfect solution. At some point I even fantasized with designing one of my own have it made. I can share my learning’s and more details on another occasion, but I can say that I have made it a point over the past year to simplify and keep my bags to a bare minimum – all of which I actually use.

3. What does your gear look like? Are rangefinders generally your camera of choice? I couldn’t help notice you shot some work with the ever-popular Leica M9?

Photographic gear of Martin Herrera Soler

I started out being a digital Canon shooter. I have a 5D Mark II that I mostly use with a 24 and 50mm lens. I also have a 70-200 and a 16-35mm that come in handy from time to time for specific uses.

As my relationship with photography matured, what was once an obsession with the latest gear and technical features evolved to a profound intrigue with the Leica rangefinder experience. For over several years I read all I could find about it and sometime in 2009 I took the plunge and got an M8.

It was not an easy transition that took a long time to settle in. It has radically altered my photography. I love the rangefinder experience; I love the manual and more thoughtful image making process, and I love the Leica itself - it’s such a precise and well-designed camera. These days it’s an M9 with a 35mm lens my equipment of choice.

4. I noticed you’re part of multi-discipline visual artist team called Latitude34South who specialize in travel workshops in South America. I’ve never attended a photography workshop yet but how would an experience with you guys differ from other workshops abroad?

I created Latitude34South first and foremost because I wanted to share this part of the world with the US photographic community. I left Uruguay as a businessperson and returned as a photographer. I am so fascinated with what South America has to offer in terms of photographic opportunities that I just had to share it.

There are two fundamental characteristics to our travel workshops. First, we have created a ‘locals’ cultural experience for our guests. We live here all year long and this allows us a very privileged access to people and places that make up a truly unique photographic experience. Second, we are a very diverse team of multimedia storytellers focused in helping our guests find a meaningful narrative for their photographic experience.

We will work with them from basic to advanced photographic skills, and most importantly we will support them in their creative process, in finding their vision and bringing together the fundamental elements to tell their story in the medium of their choice (photo essay, printed book or multimedia story).

5. Out of the significant body of work you’ve created in the past 5 years, could you select one photograph that stands above the rest and provide us with a backstory on it?

Proudest photograph of Martin Herrera Soler

I have to say that this was a hard choice for a couple of reasons. First, my favorite images seem to vary over time. For a while I’ll be fixated with one image, and then tends it mellows out and I fall in love with another image. But also, I shoot a wide variety of personal work beyond my documentary and travel photography, and those images I tend to love as well, and they usually have a very different vibe than the rest of my work. I was tempted to choose this one from a personal project called Socialite.

I decided on this image. Candombe is one of Uruguay’s most fascinating and least known features. Transmitted within families of African descent, candombe is recognized as an expression of resistance as well as a Uruguayan musical celebration and collective social practice deeply interwoven in the daily life of Barrio Sur and Palermo neighborhoods. It is also a symbol and manifestation of the memory of the community, drawing former residents back on special days to the historical nucleus of candombe.

This image was created as part of a documentary project where I followed La Melaza, a comparsa with all female drummers. In this image, they are about to enter the restricted area right before they start their parade and celebration. This tends to be a very hectic moment, and yet somehow I managed to capture an instant of calm serenity among the chaos.

To read up more on other photographers in the Spotlight Series, check out the dedicated page.