In Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal, there is a passage that reads: “God gave me mud and I made gold of it.” Here the French poet re-litigates a century-old belief which implies, beyond romanticizing, people could not relate to the world, or the circumstance of others. This is an idea that some photographers take with them while they work, that it’s not beauty that should be photographed, but the imperfections within shared experiences.
“Every single story in a human being´s life is full of power to create something,” said Maria Paula Martinez, a participant in last year’s PWB School India “What is amazing is when that experience can be useful for others who are struggling.” It’s “this original feeling,” she admits, that she looks for in people and ultimately, in her pictures.
While Martinez has been visual all her life, an attraction to photography began like most millennials – through Instagram. Drawn by this interest and her father’s nudge, she enrolled in the Active School of Photography in Mexico City. Later receiving a scholarship to Spéos, both in London and Paris, photography would become an indispensable part of her work both locally and abroad.
In September of 2017, Martinez joined the PWB India Workshop to document the work of Sambhali Trust. The non-profit based in Jodhpur, India, devotes its efforts to the lives of women that have been marginalized and policed by this patriarchal society. Through vocational training and empowerment-building workshops, these woman – some young, some widowed – would learn how to compete in a society that offered few opportunities.
While taking masterclasses with PWB, Martinez found much of what she witnessed in India wasn’t too dissimilar from what some women in the remote mountain villages of Mexico endure. Despite being in a foreign place, the striking similarities to her own life were, more or less, uncanny.
It has been two years of sobriety for Martinez, and Govind Rathore, the founder of Sambhali Trust, had faced a similar issue. Rathore’s father died of alcoholism leaving his mother widowed. “I use to say, ‘alcohol isn’t my problem, it’s life that has been so cruel to me,’” said Martinez. Seeing the embrace of these women, even while oppressed by their society or their family, finding a reason to laugh and to heal, felt like an AA meeting, she adds. Similar in scope to Martinez’s own initiative back home, Anima Ars, she feels a connection to Sambhali Trust. Both use the arts and empowering workshops to change the lives of many vulnerable people.
Martinez’s priorities moving forward are to help women of Setrawa, one of the villages visited in the Rajasthan region. So far she has helped secure sponsors for six children over the next five years, and the efforts continue. But as important as those efforts are, it is staled without her pictures. Candidly captured are the women whose lives are as mutable as mud, but their stories, as rich as gold.
To see more of Maria Paula Martinez's photography, follow her on Instagram, @maripomartini