A Moment with Martine Séverin

Fashion & Lifestyle Photographer, Martine Séverin leads an interactive workshop titled Letting Your Purpose Drive Your Work at ASMP Chicago/Midwest’s Strictly Business 2020 on January 18, 2020 at mHUB Chicago! We caught up with Martine to ask a few questions about her business, practice, and for a peek inside her plans for the workshop. See her recent Instagram takeover!

When did you realize that you build your career around your purpose and center culturally infused narratives that embrace inclusion and non-western norms in your work?

Having grown up outside the US, I am socialized as a Haitian.  When we moved to the US, I came to adopt a US-centric and European view of the world. As I got older, it became second nature for me to appreciate zouk as much as I loved rock-and-roll and hip hop.  

Fast forward to living in Europe and traveling to Latin America and Africa, I came to realize that art wasn’t found just in museums such as the Louvre, but it is also found in how indigenous tribes or say in how the Ndebele paint their houses.

As I studied the history of photography in school, I supplemented American and European centric syllabus by seeking out the work of non-western photographers such as Peter Magubane and Seydou Kïeta.   

It wasn’t until I read the book, The Blue Ocean Strategy, that I decided to gradually switch my reference to non-western norms. 

Essentially, the book discusses the value of analyzing your market and identifying the gaps in that market.  From there, you can identify untapped markets and create demand in that new market space.

Years ago, I read an article about a shift happening in the US population.  After a bit of research on projected US census numbers, I knew for sure that the demographics of the country were changing and that new stories would need to be told to attract that new market. Cue Blue Ocean Strategy!

From there, little by little, I have aligned my work to cultures outside of the US and Western Europe.

2. Could you give an example about how developing and defining a clear purpose has opened new opportunities?

Of course, clients routinely comment that they choose to work with me and the team because they love our multicultural sensibility. Most recently, I was awarded Sony’s Alpha Female award because of the work my team and I have produced in the past few years.

3. What is a current question you’re asking in your practice or business or 2020 resolution?

Well, since we run a business, I always start my strategy for the next year with a revenue goal.  From there, I analyze what worked in the previous year, what didn’t work, missed opportunities that I didn’t explore and in which ways can I be bolder and more audacious with my goals. Most importantly, I always ask, is everything I am planning for the new year aligned with my core values? If the answer is no I take a break and make sure that a thread is woven in our strategy and tactics for a successful year.

Who are you currently inspired by or who has impacted your work and practice the most (photographers, readings, brands, media, etc.)?

My son and I are discovering the music of the Caribbean together.  We love Kassav and are planning on heading to France for a Kassav concert together next summer.  We’re loving the classic King Posse song, Cool Non, and the music of Carimi.  

Listening to Kassav makes me recall the sounds, the smells and the joys of my childhood. Singing their hit song, Zouk la se sel medikamen nou’ ni, still makes me happy and reminds me to discover new artists outside of America.  Lastly, the music of Nigerian pop singer Yemi Alade (in particular her song Johnny) always makes me dance.

In terms of photographers, I still refer to the work of Roy DeCarava. I adore his work and would love to own one of his prints one day.

Martine Séverin

Martine Séverin is a Chicago-based fashion and lifestyle photographer who creates culturally infused narratives that embrace inclusion and non-western norms. She’s lived all over the world including France, Belgium, England and Boston, but her roots are tied to her home country of Haiti. Prior to a career in photography, Martine studied education policy at Harvard University and enjoyed a decade of work in the field of child development policy. As a photographer, Martine draws upon her life experience to create a world in which the human experience takes center stage—where people of different cultures, skin tones, sexual orientations, and physiques relate to each other and feel a sense of belonging.

All images courtesy Martine Séverin.