The incredible story behind USW student’s World Photographer of the Year award
An acclaimed documentary photographer and PhD student at the University of South Wales (USW), has been named Photographer of the Year in the Sony World Photography Awards 2023.
Edgar Martins has received the prestigious award in recognition of his series ‘Our War’, an homage to his friend, photojournalist Anton Hammerl, who was abducted and killed during the Libyan Civil War in 2011.
His PhD, entitled ‘The Impossible document: Photography, Absence and Trauma’, uses this poignant and very personal story as a way of exploring new visual representational methods and techniques to interrogate conflict and trauma, and enable innovative approaches to respond to war, photographic ethics and dealing with bereavement, loss and missing persons.
Edgar added: “Through a part documentary, part speculative investigation into the death and disappearance of Anton, I examined the decisive but paradoxical role that photography has played in conflict zones, and whether war, conflict and trauma can be conceptualised and understood outside the context of the canonical photo-documentary.”
Frustrated by unsuccessful attempts to find the location of his friend’s body, Edgar took matters into his own hands and travelled to Libya.
He was brought in covertly by a petrol smuggler and was immediately faced with enormous challenges working in such a volatile environment.
Realising that he would not be able to carry out a thorough and independent investigation, Edgar instead chose to reflect on the question: ‘how does one tell a story when there is no witness, no testimony, no evidence, no subject?’
In ‘Our War’, Edgar conjures and alludes to the absent central figure through a series of portraits of the people Hammerl had connected with, and those involved in the fighting (freedom fighters or their descendants, ex-militia, local residents, Gaddafi loyalists or lookalikes, and so on).
They were chosen because they either resembled him, had similar ideas and beliefs, or reminded Edgar of him at different stages of their friendship.
Speaking about his award success, Edgar said: “It is a huge honour to be recognised and although I am philosophical about awards and the subjective nature of someone’s choice, knowing that there were over 180,000 entries to this year’s Professional competition, is very humbling.
“In this case, it is also quite an emotional experience because I get to honour my friend on a world stage and bring attention to the family’s plight to find his remains. There’s no award that has the reach of the Sony World Photography Awards.”
Mike Trow, Chair of the 2023 Sony World Photography Awards, added: “‘Our War’ by Edgar Martins has used memory and invention to give us a powerful, personal set of portraits that attempt to explain the last days of his friend. His work highlights the lengths photographers will go to to tell a story and create meaning; each image giving a sense of the journey Anton took, without ever being explicit about how his life ended. The entire jury this year was fulsome in their appreciation of the work and its narrative force.”
With more than 200 prints and digital displays from winning and shortlisted photographers, the Sony World Photography Awards exhibition is being held at Somerset House, London from 14 April until 1 May 2023.
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