The past few weeks have seen me uncover a definitive focus for my subject matter. Human impact on the environment is a pretty wide topic; but learning more and more about sand and how our use of it impacts the environment has nurtured a genuine desire to share this subject matter with a wider audience.
As a natural resource, we use sand more than any other with the exceptions of air and water. Our modern life as we know is built on sand but knowledge of how, and why, it is potentially running out is not common. Back in 2012, according to the United Nations Environment Programme’s 2014 Sand, rarer than one thinks report, the world had used enough concrete to build a wall 89 feet high and 89 feet wide around the Equator. You can’t have concrete without sand.
But not all sand can be used for the purposes of humans, namely in the construction industry – it’s a finite resource and one that means riverbeds, beaches and floodplains are being destroyed to feed the demand.
According to Vince Beiser’s article for the New York Times, it’s not only environmental problems the sand mining industry is causing. People also get hurt and locked up (2016).
Beiser wrote again on this topic (he is apparently researching the sand black market) for the Guardian in February 2017. The title sums up this ongoing environmental issue: Sand mining: the global environmental crisis you’ve probably never heard of .
In this he continues his investigation into the sand mining industry sharing some staggering figures relating to human population and, in particular, the boom in city living and China’s use of sand in recent times (2017).
But this industry spans the globe with sand mining, and local protests, taking place from California to Cornwall. And it is what is happening in Cornwall that my work will focus on, reflecting the global problem.
In Hayle a group of locals began a campaign Save Our Sand due to their concerns about the wildlife and environmental impact dredging was having on the surrounding areas. Their vision is: “Save our Sand Hayle, St Ives Bay is committed to a vibrant and successful harbour while protecting the environment of the beach, estuary and St Ives Bay.” They cite the loss of the Avalon beach and feared the loss of the remaining dunes. I aim to contact this group to see how my work could help with continuing discussions about sand mining – the dredgers may not be at Hayle at the moment but they are at Padstow.
A holidaymaker shared this footage of the sand mining at Padstow as his son is “tractor crazy”.
Padstow Harbour Commissioners website states that: During 2009, the harbour handled around 120,000 tonnes of sand dredged from the estuary to be used mainly for agricultural purposes.
The deeper I dig (no pun intended) the more and more this sand becomes a fascinating subject. Not only for the environmental issues that need considering but also because of its beauty within my own artwork – my pictures are made by sand.
And it is from a new book Sand – A Journey Through Science and the Imagination by Michael Welland that I am discovering further inspiration. A passionate geologist, he quotes a line from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind at the beginning of the preface: “Sand is overrated – it’s just tiny rocks”, but goes on to say he wants to show people that sand is anything but “just tiny rocks”. He describes it as “one of our planet’s most ubiquitous and fundamental materials..”(2009: preface ix) and that, for me, brings it parallel to photography today; ubiquitous yet fundamental. It is everywhere and nowhere, it is needed yet unknown.
The new strand to my practice is called Harena Now (Harena being the Latin for sand). As I look into this natural resource further even more stories open up to me such as how sand therapy is used to help humans externalise inner feelings, and that the microscopic life between grains of sand is greater in diversity than that in the rainforest. Who knew. It really isn’t just tiny rocks.
BEISER, Vince. 2016. ‘The World’s Disappearing Sand’ The New York Times, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/23/opinion/the-worlds-disappearing-sand.html [accessed July 17, 2017]
BEISER, Vince. 2017. ‘Sand mining: the global environmental crisis you’ve probably never heard of’ The Guardian, available at https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/feb/27/sand-mining-global-environmental-crisis-never-heard [accessed July 17, 2017]
WELLAND, Michael. 2009. Sand – A Journey Through Science and the Imagination. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press