Paula Humberg’s report
about the environmental impact of photography materials (in Finnish): EKOFOTO-raportti_Paula_Humberg_2015
In 1994, the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts released the “Ekophoto?” guide that was a collaboration between students and teachers. The guide discussed for example the toxicity and recyclability of different chemicals. A decade earlier papers were soaked in processing trays with bare hands and chemicals recklessly poured into the sewer.
Today, proper chemical recovery and disposal is already self-evident, but what are the new set of problems that have arisen with digital photography? Where now lies the unecological nature of photography and the most unnecessary carbon footprint? How often is it necessary to renew ones digital equipment and accompanying programmes? How to make an ecologial photo exhibition? With aluminum and plastic or without?
Festival of Political Photography wants to open discussion on the ecology of photography. In the exhibition To the third generation at the Finnish Museum of Photography, PVF already took a bold stand: Most of the photographs that were exhibited were printed on cotton-based paper and nailed directly onto the wall unmounted and unframed. This method of installation was met with astonishment and disapproval from some, as they felt that it degraded the fine photographs. But could the only permanent element of an impressive photograph be found in its meaning, not in its material form?
Today, the words ecology and recycling are part of our everyday language, but in the context of photography, they are rarely mentioned. However, even digital photography has an effect on the environment, for example through the endless acquisition of new equipment. Current understanding of photographic art has radically affected photographic exhibitions and the way we look at photographs: photographs have become edited objects of art, with solid mountings, acrylic finishes, polished frames and non-glare museum glasses to create the feeling of a rare and valuable object.
Exhibition spaces are designed to emphasize the nature of photographs as objects of art and to distance them from the endlessly duplicable everyday stream of photographs. Museum exhibition spaces are faced with specific expectations, as the role of museums is thought to be that of a guardian and protector of culture for future generations. Facing these expectations, making ecological choises with exhibition materials becomes very difficult. The biggest problems generally concern mounting, as processing aluminum that is commonly used in mounting consumes huge amounts of energy and mining it can cause local environmental disasters.
Are the requirements concerning the ethical and ecological aspects of photography restrictive and narrow-minded? Is the impact of art on the environment so marginal that on the global scale, the choices that we make are not relevant? When the photographic works are produced and presented, what should we pay attention to? What are the ways of presenting photographs that affect viewers? What do we look at when we look at a photo exhibition?
These are the important questions that we have and will continue to examine in the context of Festival of Political Photography. We challenge all those who are interested in these questions to participate and to look for the answers with us.
PVF researches and collects ideas to create a new Ekofoto guide. We will gather information to our website and the Ekofoto Facebook group. Please contact us to participate in the project!
Read more about our ideas on the ecology of photography from the Kone Foundation blog.