Edgar Martins: Topologies

Edgar Martins: Topologies

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I met up with Edgar Martins yesterday for some cappuccino and chamomile not hours after he’d arrived in New York in preparation for his talk tonight at Aperture. I didn’t know what to expect; his new book Topologies is filled with quietly beautiful minimalist landscapes, with, at times, a slightly sinister undercurrent. The book culls work from many of Martins’ series, so we see imagery that ranges from nighttime beaches, creeping forest fires, airport runways, bright highway barriers, and the forbidding terrain of Iceland.

I thought Martins might be similarly quiet and not divulge much about the work, but it was quite the opposite; we went page-by-page through the images, and it was really amazing to hear him speak about his intentions. Sometimes photographers are cagey and secretive about their work, but Martins clearly loves photography, and lives it, and it shows. Martins was born in Portugal, but grew up in Macao, China, which is not far from Hong Kong. He went to London for both his undergraduate and graduate degrees; his MA is from the Royal College of Arts. I asked Martins the obvious question about who his influences were, and he sort of grimaced; I got the sense that he’s informed by many working artists, but not particularly consciously, with the exception of Bill Viola.

All of his work is created painstakingly, and over many years. He’s interested in “non-place” spaces, and ambiguity, which is a theme I’m hearing a lot lately. I was most struck by his nighttime beachscapes, called The Accidental Theorist and his forest fire images, from The Rehearsal of Space. The Accidental Theorist work feels at first very controlled and austere– at least, that was my impression, but it turns out to be more paradoxical; Martins took long exposures on this same Portuguese stretch of beach over a period of two years. The exposures range from three seconds to two hours, so in essence, he was really letting go of a lot of control. He often didn’t know how an image would turn out.

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Untitled, from the series The Accidental Theorist, 2005

In the book, this image is compared in John Beardsley’s introduction to Richard Serra’s Spin Out, for Robert Smithson, 1973. Martins didn’t consciously make that connection, but says “You can be in touch with Modernity without directly referencing it. This is all found imagery, I’m not consciously referencing anything.”

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Untitled, from the series The Accidental Theorist, 2005

This is actually a found scenario; I’m sworn to secrecy about what that scenario was, but Martins originally struggled with whether to include it at all. He finally decided to, because “its ambiguity helps the rest of the work.”

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Untitled, from the series The Accidental Theorist, 2005

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Untitled, from the series The Rehearsal of Space, 2006

The forest fires, from The Rehearsal of Space are all shots of
real fires in Portugal. Martins initially tried to live with a fire
brigade, but after a week, he hadn’t found himself at any fires.
Instead, he was able to hook himself up with a morning report every day
at 7am, and he’d drive himself to a fire. This was not easy work: he
was seriously burned on several occasions and suffered from smoke
inhalation. The fogging you see in the image above (the yellowed sky)
was because the negative was so close to the heat. Martins later used
this technique purposefully to burn in his Icelandic skies.

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Untitled, from the series The Rehearsal of Space, 2006

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Untitled, from the series The Rehearsal of Space, 2006

The images below are from the series Approaches, which resulted from an artistic commission which afforded Martins unlimited access to all the airports in Portugal (best.commission.ever)… In any case, Martins has always traveled a lot, and considers and airport a safe space, the ultimate “non-place space”.

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Untitled, from the series Approaches, 2006

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Untitled, from the series Approaches, 2006

Hear Edgar speak more about his work, and have a book signed tonight at Aperture at 6:30pm.

Aperture Foundation
547 W. 27th St., Fl. 4
New York, NY 10001
(212) 946-7108

Edgar Martins is represented in the U.S. by Betty Cunningham Gallery and Paul Kopeiken Gallery.

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  2. Hankk at 11:40 am

    Yep, that first shot — the two red blocks on the beach — looks to be a Photoshop job. The stripes in the woodgrain on the two blocks are are almost exact mirrors of each other.

  3. Yoink at 9:03 pm

    Yeah, the photoshopping is almost a pathological need. Look at the first of the “Rehearsal of Space” images above (the one with the sky supposedly yellowed by having had the film get exposed to too much heat–a story that I think it extremely improbable). Have a look at the upper right hand portion of the image. Look at the first clear trunk standing in from the right hand edge–see how it has three clumps of green leaves regularly marking it’s left hand side (the trunk’s left-hand side, that is)? If you notice, that clump is clearly cloned–at least twice. I’m also pretty suspicious about the big flame flareups–I can’t see what fuel they’re supposed to be the result of, and they don’t look realistic–but that’s purely speculation.

  4. Hankk at 12:09 pm

    Holy cow — you’re right! That whole corner of the first fire image is cloned too. Where will he stop? I’m suspicious too of the yellowing: the film is insulated by a few inches of plastic and glass. Unless he claims to be using a pinhole camera in a metal frame, I doubt the story. And what’s with the black sky on these alleged Portuguese beaches too? No stars, no clouds, no moon, yet bright shadows?

  5. tobias at 6:05 pm

    im not sure if digital manipulation is a crime in the world of art photography, just look at Gursky or Crewdson for highly manipulated and universally lauded images i do however find the beach works to be awkwardly identical in style and subject to the early 90’s work of english photographer patrick shanahan http://www.shanahanphotos.com/esperantis_24.html

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