Edgar Martins, The albufeira (bayou) of Borba (Alentejo, Portugal), where several suicides by drowning have taken place over the years. Figures published in 2005 showed that the Alentejo district of Odemira had the highest suicide rate in the world, with a rate of 61 suicides for every 1000 inhabitants, 2001
Edgar Martins, ‘Bloody drama in a humble home: mother of six is stabbed to death by her husband (1968)’
Edgar Martins, Personal belongings of a deceased individual, victim of a crime, circa 1920
Edgar Martins, ‘Man leaves a 1,904-page suicide note and then shoots himself as part of a philosophical exploration (2010)’
Edgar Martins, Othalanga nights, 2007
Edgar Martins, When a honeybee stings a person, it leaves a scent mark on its victim that smells like bananas. When one beekeeper had bananas for breakfast and then tried to stock his beehive, the insects poured out and stung him to death, 2016
Death has a hundred hands and walks by a thousand ways.
—T.S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral, 1935
Photo Oxford presents the UK premiere of Edgar Martins’ new work Siloquies and Soliloquies on Death, Life and Other Interludes. Produced in collaboration with the Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences in Portugal, Martins’ work is borne out of a frustration with photography’s inability to show the nature of death, as opposed to what he describes as the media’s ‘glorification of the gory and the bizarre’. Contemporary depictions of death focus on spectacle, rather than attempt to create the space to encourage an understanding of its causes, contexts and consequences and Martin seeks to bring these to the fore.
The physicality of death is inevitably horrible and often shocking, while its literal depiction in photography – of the dead body in particular – is intrusive. Subjects are powerless, unable to shield their faces or refuse. The challenge of the photograph then, and the photographer, is to communicate something meaningful about death and investigate its anthropological, social and historical contexts as well as its personal relevance.
Through the use of new photography, appropriating previously unseen archive material – including historical photographs, confidential case and medical files, crime and suicide-scene evidence – installation and projections, Martin’s offers a poignant study that proposes to scrutinise, expose and hold in tension many of the contradictions and problems inherent in the depiction on death, as well as on language and semiotics. The artist deploys both documentary photography approaches and fiction and in turn, his series of photographs and text becomes a process of unveiling, rather than straightforward, factual accounts.
Inspired by his own experience of traumatic death, Martins’ project focuses on violent death and, in particular, suicide. In doing so, he meditates on the often unforeseeable but always inevitable nature of mortality and, investigates its legacies through the depiction of material evidence - from extracts from suicide notes, to press photographs reporting family murders to photographic records of deceased persons’ belongings.
This archive material is variously manipulated by Martins, yet forever haunted by the spectres of its victims or perpetrators. Martins photographs become like late nineteenth and early twentieth century spirit photographs, only without the absurd (but for the recipient, tangible and moving) double exposures of ghostly faces or ectoplasm. They move to the heart of the matter, exploring motivation and intent rather than venture into the shocking or grotesque.
Each iteration of Siloquies and Soliloquies on Death, Life and Other Interludes is unique, responding to the space and location in which it is displayed. Presented in complex and suggestive sequences, the project is a visual journey towards the struggle of contemplating death, in search of people, places and images that have connection with us on the far side of time.
Curated by Tim Clark and Greg Hobson
Edgar Martins: Siloquies and Soliloquies on Death, Life and Other Interludes