Subprime surreal estate
“I come from a place – Portuguese Macau – where there is a shortage of housing. And most of the places I’ve lived in, there has been a shortage of housing. So the excess in these places – it was just mind-boggling, really.”
The title photograph, This Is Not A House, shows a deserted street of detached houses in Atlanta, Georgia. Weeds have taken over the landscaped areas. Across the tarmac lies a bright red “Stop” sign that has fallen to the ground. On top of its red gash, a tiny street sign reads, poignantly: “Wisteria Way”.
“That was one of the places I most enjoyed photographing,” Martins says. “ It was an entire neighbourhood. There were maybe 30 or 40 houses on several roads, a cul de sac, a roundabout. It really looked otherworldly.”
As with ghost estates here in Ireland, the mute buildings speak volumes about the ruined aspirations of the people who would have moved in.
Martins also has a surreal streak; another picture shows a chair perched where no chair should ever be, on top of a door leading into an empty hallway. The overall effect is to question the stability of these shelters we take so much for granted.
Martins likes to work at night, making exposures which might last for anything up to three and a half hours. “There’s an experimental side to it that you can never fully pin down, and I really enjoy that,” he says. “At night, it’s quite difficult even to focus, let alone know how the image will come out.”
For one enormous panoramic shot – at one metre 30cm high and three metres wide, the largest frame ever to have been accommodated in the Gallery of Photography – Martins ran around the building setting off a flash gun, dressed in black so he wouldn’t show up in the final image.
What if someone, or something, does show up at the wrong moment, say 90 minutes in?
“Tough. You have to try again. And given the time-frames involved, you might have to wait until the next night. It’s the antithesis of the idea that you can go into a place, take two or three snaps in two or three minutes, and come out with a set of images that ends up defining the place.”
An image, however stunning, is not a house – let alone a home. It’s something to think about next time you’re browsing through property pictures.
This is Not A House is at the Gallery of Photography until March 17th. Admission is free, all welcome