Pat Martin on his award-winning series Goldie

Following his win of the prestigious Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2019 last week, the LA-based photographer talks us through healing family relationships and documenting his late mother’s life through photography

Between the years of 2015 and 2018, Pat Martin would regularly go around to his brother’s apartment and photograph his mother, Gail. She’d often be there watching over his nephews, where she would “play the role of grandma”. Occasionally he would ask Gail to pose, and it eventually became something of a ritual, but above all it was always very organic – a time for them to sit and hang out. “It’s more like fishing,” he says. “I like the word ‘fishing’ for photography.”

The resulting photo series, Goldie (Mother), has just earned Martin the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize 2019, one of the most revered awards in the world of portrait photography. His warm, intimate photographs of his late mother – sometimes joined by Beaux, her chihuahua – were praised by the judges for their sensitivity, carefully balanced with a tinge of light and humour in a way that only a loved one could master.

It seems fitting that a family experience formed the bedrock for Martin’s recent achievements, given it was through family that he first entered the realm of photography. His brother got him his first camera, his first exhibition, and his first job in photography. “One day, he was babysitting me when I was eleven years old and brought me into a photo studio, and from there I just caught the bug,” he explains. “I kind of rode the wave of photo assisting until I felt I had to do my own thing.”

Martin spent much of his time taking spontaneous portraits of people he crossed paths with, but realised he could turn the lens back onto his own life after seeing a show of Larry Sultan’s work at LACMA around four years ago. At the time, his mother was experiencing some health issues, and seeing Sultan’s work was confirmation that he needed to document her life through photography.