Imagine a photographic world where you don’t need heavy metals and litres of water to make photographs. Imagine a photographic world where you can discard your unwanted images as well as used and expired materials in your own backyard or compost bin.
Imagine a photographic world where your garden is your photographic supplies store.
Imagine no more. Often we point the finger at others who may not be doing enough for sustainability. However, you must ask yourself: Am I doing enough?
How does my practice contribute to environmental issues?
Is the energy used to make the work in balance with how effectively it reaches and educates the people seeing it?
By addressing positive environmental action through photography, can I provide an alternative cleaner process?
It is my responsibility to ask these questions of myself and the activities I participate in.
The work I have produced is an ongoing answer to these questions. I use the natural process of plants – photosynthesis, the transformation of sun into energy. Chlorophyll is a light-sensitive substance, reacting to the sun or the lack of sun. I use the sun as my light source, and the negative I create interferes with overall normal photosynthesizing of the leaf. The negative makes it harder for the light to get to the leaf, so more chlorophyll is required for the plant to convert the sunlight into energy in the same way that plants growing in shaded areas tend to be darker green. As a result, some areas of the leaf retain their chlorophyll while other areas are scorched by the sun, producing enough tonal range to create a photographic image. Using this natural process, the leaf creates the image upon itself.
Using this method, I can avoid the need for photographic paper. I don’t require the chemicals to develop and fix the image on the paper, and I don’t need water to wash the image to ensure it lasts and is safe to handle. I don’t need to dispose of these chemicals once they have been exhausted, and I don’t need more chemicals and paper produced for my next prints. I don’t need a special room in which to make my images, and there are many products I no longer require, as the tools I use are multifunctional or growable. I still require technology but less than before; hence is it an ongoing answer, a progression.
I want to lead by example rather than just criticize. Pointing the finger is not enough, and it never has been. We have spent too long focusing on everything that is wrong, so we only see the problems. We need to offer solutions. I hope my work can be a part of a solution. The possibilities I discover and develop in photography are meant to encourage and inspire others to explore how they can adapt their situation to be a part of the solution.
Photography about the environment should aspire to engage with materials in its physical presentation, giving further depth to the message in the images. Marshall McLuhan explained that the message is in the medium, and this is significant when expressing ideas about the importance of sustainability. If words and actions are not saying the same thing, then the message will be lost. It is necessary for the materials and processes that I have used to create the images to work in conjunction with my concern for our lack of consideration for the environment, which I aim to show through my images. The physicality of the work is fragile, delicate and time sensitive. So are the environments we live within, but we have lost touch with our surroundings. We no longer live in our environment, instead we live off it and on it. We take so much of our surroundings for granted because we have become disconnected from our environment – we no longer consider how much we constrict, construct, and control. We pulverise and reform nature into any suitable form, thus natural ecological states and processes have become irrelevant. The fact that these natural processes, these raw materials before us, are complete functioning systems is lost on us. Where has our wonder gone? I wish for my work to help people rediscover this wonder, to reconnect with our environment, to become part of it again rather than remaining apart from it.
Rosemary Horn (www.photogirl.co.nz) is a photographer primarily using alternative processes. She received her Bachelor of Design in photography from Massey University in Wellington, New Zealand in 2006. Since graduating, Rosemary has been travelling and working throughout Europe. Her work focuses on environmental issues and incorporating tactile elements in her photographic practice.