2018 - 2020
What Photography & Incarceration have in Common with an Empty Vase is a multifaceted body of work developed, over a period of three years, from a collaboration with 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? What does it mean for Photography if it does not identity with the referent but its absence. Moreover, 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 willfully 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, signaling a growing inclination towards a broader, more hybrid and interdisciplinary perspective of images.