9999bananas.com, a digital print and calendar shop, is the brainchild of the photographer and branding pro, Anna Martin. Her site features fine art prints of her New York City influenced photography as well as lovingly handcrafted tiny desk calendars. You can find her work on Instagram at @banana9999 and her tiny calendars at @9999_co.
How did your interest in photography begin?
Well at 41, I’m old enough to remember the joy and shared excitement of a fresh roll of prints from the Photo Hut or drug store fulfillment center. Nothing like waiting a few days hoping the thing I saw in a tiny window a week ago came out as good on paper as it did in my mind’s eye. That was when the magic happened!
Also, in high school my mom let me skip taking stupid physics in favor of a semester of public speaking and photography. I LOVED the dark room; playing with chemicals and exposure to get a desired visual effect and learning how scene lighting really drove the end result of a good photo.
But I honestly didn’t pay attention to photography as an art form until I opened my (mostly now broken) 365 photo blog Nobody Puts Banana In A Corner. The goal then was to post one photo a day for a year with a little text just to see if I could complete the task. It was a lot of fun and forced me to take thousands of photos in order to find something cool or interesting so I didn’t disappoint or bore my readers (mostly my mom).
Who are your artistic influences?
This one is hard for me to answer because I’ve never considered myself an artist and thus never as having any particular influences. But, I have been studying and experiencing art for as long as I can remember. I took a standard art history in nerd camp at 12, have a minor in art history from undergrad, I lived a summer in Tuscany studying Italian art, and spent 10 years hanging and traveling with art exhibitions during my years as an art museum registrar. I’ve spent a lot of my waking moments breathing the art world — even if only by osmosis during a hangover in my younger days.
If I had to pick one fine artist that made the biggest impression I would have to choose Andy Goldsworthy. When I was the registrar at the Museum of Jewish Heritage we installed the Garden of Stones with these giant cranes in the middle of Manhattan. I loved his idea of a work of art with mother nature and the passage of time creating the experience. His documentary Rivers and Tides was filmed a few years before that installation and has become my absolute favorite thing to watch when I want to feel zen. Most of his work is about the passage of time and noticing the small details in the simplest of settings. Even though he is considered a sculptor, since most of the pieces he makes are ephemeral, his photographs of them become the end work. His photos have these great overlapping textures and feeling of depth and color since they are depictions of 3D creations. Those broad ideas of time, depth and texture have sort of stayed with me and subtly influence the photos I take now.
Many of your photos feature beautiful closeups of items one would not normally look at such as rocks, woodgrain, and peeling paint. You find true beauty in the urban world. What is your secret to finding great shots?
When you are surrounded by so many people all the time, it can be overwhelming. Over 15 years living in New York I have sort of trained my brain to let the sheer humanity, noise and rush sort of flow over me like background noise. I turn on a good playlist and let it all become a cinematic experience so I can stay calm in the madness. In this mindset, I notice small things I walk past each day like the changing light on the same building during the passage of seasons. For example, my Freedom Tower calendar is a study of the same view near my house with variations in sky, clouds and time of day rendering the variety for a complete calendar.
My eye for other details happened as I noticed mural and graffiti art and kind of fell in love with these forgotten doorways and corners where stickers and wheat pastes and tags from all sorts of street artists collect. Since the city is always changing, these pockets get removed or the buildings get demolished so I started to photograph these nooks as a way to remember them. That’s when I started to notice how even small things change in these very subtle ways over time and the resulting paint peels are like an archeological onion. People chose all these different colors over time for the exact same wall and the natural elements of wind, water, and time revealed the layers while creating the depth and textures and colors I liked. The more I looked, the more they looked like abstract paintings. I still love stumbling across a good paint peel on my rambles and get a kick out of people thinking I’m nuts while bending over to take a photo of a nasty rusty pipe on the street!
Each tiny desk calendar doubles as 12 postcards. After reading your blog post on Snail Mail, I was reminded of Frank Warren’s project Post Secrets, where people anonymously sent him their biggest secrets. Have you ever received any good post secrets?
Sadly, I have not. The address for my business is posted on my website and I invite people to send me any kind of snail mail they would like. I would adore seeing my own creations come back to me with message. It gives them an extra bit of life, and who doesn’t like REAL mail? On a random side note, when you cut the complete month card to postcard size, it fits nicely in a 5 x 5 inch frame, so send a bit of tiny art to someone you love or send Frank a secret!
What is your favorite part of running 9999 Bananas?
9999 Bananas started as way to learn how to make a website since I was feeling really technologically behind the kids at work! I was also curious if ecommerce worked for crafts without a third party like Etsy because I wanted to have total creative control over my own products and potential profits. In that sense, the thing I like best is this is all my own creation. I personally make (with the help of awesome creatives like Meg Link) and pay for all the things needed to run this little side business. I have yet to make any real profit and it’s a labor of love, a place to learn and stay current, but most of all a platform to share my photos and words for anyone that cares to follow along.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who are thinking about launching their own products?
- Have a good long think about whether it makes sense to sell your product all on your own. There is a lot to be said for a third party like Etsy or Amazon. They have tech teams for IT support and marketing gurus. It’s a lot of work to manage a side business from scratch, especially if you have a full-time job sucking up your free time and/or creative juices.
- Whatever you are selling should be authentically YOU. It’s good to take advice but literally everyone you know will eventually ask why you are doing this, give you unsolicited opinions, and think they could do it better even though they have never even tried. So, take the good ideas and leave the rest. If you are selling a good quality interesting product, service, or artwork, people will buy it. Or they won’t… and the world will keep spinning. It’s really ok to “fail” and don’t beat yourself up. Tomorrow is another day.
- “It doesn’t have to be anything more than what it is.” Basically, don’t put unrealistic expectations on your own plate and then stress about them. My website is a personal creative portal with no rules. I write when the mood strikes or I have something I really want to say but not to get customers or create SEO. I share photos every day on Instagram because it makes me happy and a few of those make it into calendars that I sell for a few weeks each year to mostly friends and family. They always tell me how much they enjoy them and that’s honestly all that matters in the end.