‘What Photography has in Common with an Empty Vase’ is a multifaceted body of work by Edgar Martins developed from a collaboration with GRAIN Projects and HMP Birmingham (the largest, category B prison in the Midlands). The collaboration was based on engagement with the prison’s inmates and their families as well as a myriad of other local organisations and individuals.
Using the social context of incarceration as a starting point, artist Edgar 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 giving a voice to inmates and their families and addressing prison as a set of social relations rather than a mere geographical entity, 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 and punishment: violence, drugs, criminality, race – an approach that only serves to reinforce the act of photographing and photography itself as apotropaic devices.
By focusing on ideas of absence, separation, hope and boundaries the project sends out a clear message: that the usual power relations and discourse associated to this kind of environment should not be perpetuated.
Composed of three distinct chapters, encompassing film, archive and new photography, installation, sculpture, text and sound, Martins’ work shifts between image and information, between fiction and evidence, strategically deploying visual and textual details in tandem so that the viewer becomes aware of what exists outside the confines of the frame. This work marks a significant transition in Martins’ creative trajectory, signalling a growing inclination towards a broader, more hybrid and interdisciplinary perspective of images.
Artist Edgar Martins will be joined by artist, writer and PhD course director at USW Mark Durden and other guests.