I spent so much time deliberating my Final Major Project Proposal. Reading and re-reading the guidelines, asking advice from peers and going with my gut all fed into the final outcome. And the results are in.
First, I’m content with my grade and looking forward to speaking in more detail to my lecturer, Wendy McMurdo.
And secondly, thank you to Wendy for such a speedy turnaround on results. Waiting for outcomes can be a nerve-wracking process.
I opened my proposal with the following:
The second most used natural resource by humans, after water, is running out.
This material shapes our modern lifestyles, and without it our existence as we know it today would cease.
My project, Harena Now, investigates a lesser-known example of human impact on environment, place and people through its visual response to the global sand crisis.
Its key themes aim to:
• Raise awareness of, and spark conversations about, this particular issue to feed into wider discussion.
• Query how people respond to messages relating to environmental problems within photographic images that have been caused by our own species.
• Utilise 19th Century and camera-less processes and techniques that have minimal environmental impact, combined with digital manipulation techniques, to explore how this approach to image-making can create a powerful outcome.
Each day I’m learning more and more about this issue. I know that I have sound research behind my project and therefore, I will now be focussing on making new work but also on individual connections with scientists and environmentalists.
These connections will hopefully be able to aid my plans to be part of the call for a fuller international response to managing the resource that has shaped our civilisations for so long. They will also hopefully add insight to my final show, to help place my work in context of the subject matter, almost akin to a rope tethering a helium balloon. My work can still fly but will be grounded at the same time.
I am also fascinated by how people respond to images they see. What is it about any particular image, or any other artwork, that causes an emotive reflex in a person? How is Barthes’ ‘punctum’ replicated in others? Through this project, I am aiming to start a study into how environmental issues can be highlighted through photography in alternative ways to the documentary. If, in an image-saturated world, pictures of destruction caused by our own species hand cause us to turn away, how can we encourage positive change in human actions through photography?
In Susan Sontag’s book Regarding the Pain of Others she drew attention to how ‘we’ are moved, or not, by images of suffering. She wrote: “In a modern life – a life in which there is a superfluity of things to which we are invited to pay attention – it seems normal to turn away from images that simply make us feel bad.”
Edward Burtynsky has this year been awarded the Photo London Master of Photography. award. But his style was challenged by Rob Hudson (co-founder of the Inside the Outside Collective) when he said on Twitter (see screen garb below) that he had a “few problems with Edward Burtynsky’s beautification of environmental degradation for sale to wealth oligarchs who are responsible for said environmental degradation”.
The subsequent thread provided food for thought around the ‘beautification’ of disasters or neglect. Salgado, a photojournalist of high repute, has had his work criticised for this and way back in 2005 a Nieman Reports article, When People’s Suffering is Portrayed as Art highlighted the ethical pros and cons of his style as viewed by others. The author, Michele McDonald, quotes Ingrid Sischy as writing, “To aestheticise is the fastest way to anesthetise the feeling of those who are witnessing it. Beauty is a call to admiration, not to action ….”
But most of these images include people directly, or are a graphic explanation of how our impact has negatively changed environments.
For me, my work, although I have dabbled with using human faces, will not include any trace of of a human face. They are more akin to images of our vast universe. The juxtaposition of the awe images of the celestial can inspire will be anchored by the truth behind their beauty. It will be fascinating to discover if they simply create admirers or inspire action.
McDONALD, Michelle. 2005. When People’s Suffering is Portrayed as Art. Nieman Reports. Available at: http://niemanreports.org/articles/when-peoples-suffering-is-portrayed-as-art/ [accessed February 26, 2018]
SONTAG, Susan. 2003. Regarding the Pain of Others. USA. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.