Edgar Martins is an award winning visual artist who works across different media (photography, text, audio, film & installation) and who develops long term, socially engaged, public led projects, with a cross-sectoral approach.
Over the past 15 years his practice has been increasingly rooted in long term projects with what he terms ‘hard-to-access’ organisations as his interested in the techniques of artistic expression these engagements activate and the dialogue they provoke. This has led to unique artistic collaborations with organisations such as the Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences, the UK Metropolitan Police, the European Space Agency, BMW, EDP Power Stations, HM Prison Birmingham, etc.
Whilst his work has covered themes as varied as technology, modernity, mobility, death, absence, conflict, incarceration & language, and whilst it is heavily influenced by subjects such as philosophy, semiotics and psychoanalysis, it is primarily guided by an ontological drive, rethinking the deep rooted anxieties around ethics and aesthetics that inevitably arise when documentary photography and questions of visibility intersect.
These intentions collide, overlap and blur in his work, often exposing the fragility of our perceptual/cognitive systems.
Photography, for Martins, is a medium built around conceptual tensions so it offers him a means to bring together irresolvable contradictions, questioning but also challenging the viewers’ convictions and expectations in his work.
What Photography & Incarceration have in Common with an Empty Vase is a multifaceted body of work developed from a collaboration with Grain Projects and HM Prison Birmingham (the largest, category B prison in the Midlands, UK), its inmates, their families as well as a myriad of other local organisations and individuals.
Using the social context of incarceration as a starting point, Martins explores the philosophical concept of absence, and addresses a broader consideration of the status of the photograph when questions of visibility, ethics, aesthetics and documentation intersect.
By productively articulating image and text, new and historical photography, evidence and fiction, Martins’ work proposes to scrutinise how one deals with the absence of a loved one, brought on by enforced separation. From an ontological perspective it seeks answers to the following questions: how does one represent a subject that eludes visualization, that is absent or hidden from view? How can documentary photography, in an era of fake news, best acknowledge the imaginative and fictional dimension of our relation to photographs?
By giving a voice to inmates and their families and addressing prison as a set of social relations rather than a mere physical space, Martins’ work proposes to rethink and counter the sort of imagery normally associated with incarceration.
The project thus wilfully circumvents images whose sole purpose, Martins argues, is to confirm the already held opinions within dominant ideology about crime & punishment: violence, drugs, criminality, race – an approach that only serves to reinforce the act of photographing and photography itself as apotropaic devices.
This work marks a significant transition in Martins’ creative trajectory, signalling a growing inclination towards a broader, more hybrid and interdisciplinary perspective of images.