What Photography & Incarceration have in Common with an Empty Vase results from a collaboration with inmates, incarcerated in the West Midlands, their families and a myriad of other individuals and community groups in the region.
It is a multifaceted body of work, developed from a commission with GRAIN Projects, where the artist uses 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 using 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 through incarceration and lockdown. The project seeks to answer; 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 physical space, Martins’ work proposes to rethink and counter the sort of imagery normally associated with incarceration and confinement. 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.
What Photography & Incarceration have in Common with an Empty Vase was shortlisted for the 2020 Paris Photo & Aperture Foundation Photobook Awards as well the PhotoEspaña Book Award in the best photobook of the year category.