Edgar Martins: This is not a House

2 out of 5 stars
Edgar Martins, untitled, from the series, This is not a House (Phoenix, Arizona), 2008.jpg
© the artist, courtesy Wapping Projects Bankside From 'This is Not a House' by Edgar Martins

In 2008, The New York Times asked 32-year-old freelance photographer Edgar Martins to gather evidence of fall-out from the financial crash into a photo essay, which ran in the magazine and online – at least until it became known that Martins had manipulated some of the images, contrary to NYT policy. Cropping, naturally, is fine, although actually, what's natural about that?

This led to a wrangle over whether any photographic image (art, documentary or otherwise) can be considered authentic nowadays, which is a surprising twist given that, when photography was invented, it was deemed so authentic that it was felt it would never count as art at all.

As interesting as the debate remains, Martins's images don't add anything much to it. He is very accomplished: the composition is always perfect, the colours sharp. A white house fills an enormous frame, its black roof tiles and symmetrically shattered windows leering at the viewer. The scattered leaves dotting the floor of another empty house possess a strange and sinister beauty. But we are disconcerted by the faultlessness, perhaps more so than by the flawed behaviour that caused our current economic woes – to err is human, after all.

While financial crash was indeed a product of insane optimism, on many fronts, and the results have been tragic, none of this comes across in Martins's coldly digitised simulation of reality, as scrubbed of feeling as it is of furniture. Unlike the images, the title, 'This Is Not a House', is intriguingly flawed. There are golf courses, factories and concrete shells here as well as houses, but what none of these pictures contain is a home, or, for that matter, a heart.


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