Martha Casanave graduated from the Monterey Institute of International Studies with a degree in Russian Language and Literature and began her working life as a translator in Washington, DC. She engaged in photography from early childhood, however, and later came back to the Monterey Peninsula, built up a portrait clientele, and began teaching photography, while continuing to pursue her personal work. She has been an exhibiting and working photographer and educator on the Monterey Peninsula for over thirty years
Every year between 1984 and 1995, Casanave used her knowledge of Russian language and culture to take groups of American photographers to the Soviet Union/Russia, and made a number of trips on her own to work on photographic projects. She received travel grants from the Polaroid Corporation to make a series of pinhole photographs of Leningrad in winter.
She was awarded the Imogen Cunningham Photography Award for her portraiture (1979) and also was a 1989 recipient of the Koret Israel Prize. Her book Past Lives– Photographs by Martha Casanave was published by Godine in 1991. Her second book, Beware of Dog, was released by the Center for Photographic Art in 2002. Her book (exclusively pinhole) called Explorations Along an Imaginary Coastline, was published by Hudson Hills Press in 2006. Trajectories: A Half Century of Portraits (Image Continuum Press) came out in 2013.
Casanave’s photographs are included in many major collections, such as the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Stanford Museum, the Bibliotheque Nationale, the J. Paul Getty Museum , and the Graham Nash private collection.
Casanave teaches Beginning Photography, Portraiture, and Alternative Photographic Processes at Cabrillo College in Santa Cruz, and Monterey Peninsula College. She also teaches workshops and Master Classes nationally and internationally.