Edgar Martins (born 1977, Evora, Portugal) grew up in Macau, China. In 1996 he moved to London, where he studied at the University of the Arts and the Royal College of Art. Landscape, place, space, and architecture, as well as political, social and human issues, have established themselves as the predominant themes in his photographic imagery.
Martins' series, What Photography has in Common with an Empty Vase, 2019, 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, I explore the philosophical concept of absence, and address a broader consideration of the status of the photograph when questions of visibility, ethics, aesthetics and documentation intersect. From a humanist perspective the work seeks to reflect on 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: what does it mean for Photography if it does not identify with the referent but its absence? How does Photography 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, my work proposes to rethink and counter the sort of imagery normally associated with incarceration'. (Edgar Martins)
In earlier work Martins used photography to develop a philosophical, quasi-scientific investigation, examining various minimalist concepts of the contemporary urban landscape. Moving between the factual and fictional, between the concrete and the metaphorical, the artist operated within a landscape of uncertainty, permanent flux, transition and opposition. His work maintained a close and subtle dialogue with the traditions of topography and landscape photography, with a link to the cinematic, the pictorial, and the sculptural. Martins' photography remains unique in its psychological nuances, playing on the appeal and fascination of the unknown as we are faced with the pure emptiness of man-made spaces of experimentation.
Edgar Martins' work is represented in significant collections including the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon; MAAT/Fundacao EDP, Lisbon; Victoria & Albert Museum, London; Royal Institute of British Architects, UK; Dallas Museum of Art; Fondazione MAST, Bologna; Fondation Carmignac, Paris. His first book was awarded the Thames & Hudson and RCA Society Book Art Prize. Between 2002 and 2020 Martins published twelve separate books. He was the recipient of the inaugural New York Photography Award (Fine Art category) in May 2008. Between 2009 and 2010 he was also awarded the BES Photo Prize (Portugal), a SONY World Photography Award and 1st prize in the Fine Art/Abstract category of the 2010 International Photography Awards. In 2017-2018 he was distinguished in the Magnum and SONY World Photography Awards. Edgar Martins represented Macau, China, at the 54th Venice Biennale. In 2023, he was awarded the SONY World Photographer of the Year award for his series Our War.