A Photographer Challenged Herself To Shoot In Ugly Places – And The Results Are Astonishing

Photographers have been known to travel the world looking for spectacular scenery, such as dramatic seasides, ragged mountain ranges, picturesque cities and glamorous interiors. They’ll even risk life and limb for the right shot, on a volcano for example. But few, if any, have taken on the challenge of taking striking photographs in a hardware store.

Before embarking on a career in photography, Jenna Martin got herself a Masters in Psychiatric Rehabilitation. “I started my first counseling job and immediately knew I was in the wrong field,” she told Pictureline. And she explained, “I didn’t do well behind a desk with a routine and a boss. I barely lasted three weeks before coming home and declaring I was going to be a photographer.”

Martin began her creative career taking photos of babies. She interned with photographer Jill Nauman, who specialized in newborn photography. It was here that she learned how to composite images and developed an interest in conceptual photography.

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Martin, who is based in Billings, Montana, first made her name with underwater photography. Waterproof camera housing was very pricey at the time, but being resourceful, Martin made her own. “No one needs underwater portraits. But there is an audience for anything,” she told Yellowstone Valley Woman.

Shot in oceans, lakes and swimming pools, Martin’s underwater images were described as “fantastical.” In addition to selling her conceptual photography, she was able to support herself with portrait photography and giving workshops. But as Martin told Pictureline, “Even the most well-known photographers are constantly evolving.”

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Jenna Martin’s latest project is about as far from ethereal underwater scenes as it’s possible to get. She made a plan with a friend, model Rachelle Kathleen, to do a small photo shoot. However Martin had decided that this wasn’t going to be any ordinary photo shoot in the usual scenic location.

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“Instead of searching out the usual beautiful locations around where we live, I had the idea to do just the opposite,” Martin wrote in her blog. “I wanted to go somewhere ‘ugly’ by all conventional photography standards and then see what we could do with it. Lowe’s seemed like the perfect option.”

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Lowe’s is of course a huge hardware chain, known for its paint, garden supplies, barbecues – and definitely not pretty photographic scenery. It seems that Martin likes a challenge. “I wanted somewhere with horrible lighting and limited backdrop,” she explains in her blog. “Somewhere that made absolutely no sense for a photo shoot.”

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Martin set some rules for her shoot. She would not use any additional lighting or props, they would not change the store’s displays, and they would not get in the way of any Lowe’s customers or use them in the photographs. All she and Rachelle Kathleen took with them was a couple outfits, and of course, a camera.

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Martin and her model were at Lowe’s an hour before closing. There were few people around at this time, and those who were didn’t pose any problems. When they asked an employee for permission to shoot, Martin wrote that he said, “Of course! I was just wondering why she was so overdressed for a trip to the hardware store!”

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The first place Martin headed for inside Lowe’s was the paint samples section. “I have to admit, I have always wanted to shoot in front of these paint samples,” she wrote, “so as soon as we walked in the door I made a bee-line right to them.”

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When you think about it, the paint samples stand is probably one of the prettiest places in a hardware store. It’s certainly the most colorful. With a little editing, it’s not too surprising that the resulting photographs Martin took are among her favorites from the shoot.

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Next up was the lighting area. Once again, this could probably be considered one of the nicer parts of a hardware warehouse. After all, unlike, say, lawnmowers, lightshades are designed primarily to look good. However, photographing a group of different light sources does come with certain challenges.

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Martin writes that one of the main obstacles she had to overcome was the unexpected height of the lighting. She wrote, “The lights were so much higher than we thought… or maybe we’re just a lot shorter than we realized (we’re both barely 5’4”).” Fortunately, as the resulting image shows, Martin managed to work her way around the problem.

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Jenna Martin and Rachelle Kathleen then moved onto to a decidedly unappealing location – the aisles. “Horrible lighting, lots of plastic surfaces, really nothing that would be considered aesthetically pleasing, but that was the point,” Martin wrote. “This was the essence of Lowe’s, and we wouldn’t have been doing the challenge justice to steer away from it.”

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Once again, however, the photographer delivered an image beyond expectations. With the model draped over a shopping cart, the aisle, with its boxes and trolleys, looks almost glamorous. In her blog Martin reassures us that although carts are normally off limits for sitting on, they had special permission in this case.

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Martin shot in two different aisles before moving on to the gardening section. Unfortunately, she didn’t have much time left by this stage, but she made it count. As a backdrop to these photographs she used a group of fake plants, which were shot so that they would fill the frame with the model kneeling in front of them.

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In her blog, Martin expresses regret that they didn’t have more time in the gardening section. According to the photographer, the area had the best lighting in the store. She aimed to get a “moody, wintery” atmosphere in the images, which she later accomplished through photo editing.

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Most people love Martin’s Lowe’s project, but of course there are critics. The interpretation of “ugly” is obviously subjective, and not everyone thinks the hardware store fits the bill. Others claim that with such an attractive model, any place would look better, regardless of the photographer’s skill. Then of course there are people who object to so much photo editing.

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Martin herself believes the project was a success, and has since followed it up with another “ugly” shoot in a tire store. “To expect to only shoot in perfect locations is so unreasonable it’s borderline insane,” she wrote in response to a blog comment. “Your skills don’t improve, your outlook doesn’t improve, your work doesn’t improve. The only way to push yourself is to step out of your comfort zone.”

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