The photographer as environmental activist: politics, ethics and beauty in the struggle for environmental remediation

2015-11-26T10:43:56Z (GMT) by Conohar Scott
This practice-based research study examines two questions in an effort to determine how the photographer can play a role in the promulgation of environmental activism. Firstly, I ask if certain aesthetic approaches to the documentation of industrial pollution can be regarded as antithetical to the values of environmentalism; in particular, I examine the use of the sublime and the role that beauty plays in documenting scenes of environmental despoliation. In response to this question, I describe the problems associated with establishing a counter-aesthetic position in my artistic practice, which is commensurate with environmental ethics. Secondly, I ask how photography can be used as a means of conducting environmental protest by working in solidarity with environmental scientists and activists, in the struggle for environmental remediation. In a bid to answer this question, I argue that the production and dissemination of the photobook is one method of realising the dissensual capacity of art to bring about the conditions necessary for remediation to occur. Importantly, my practice proceeds through an understanding of debates ongoing in contemporary theory. In particular, I argue that Jacques Rancière s conceptions of dissensus (Rancière, 2010: 173) and the politics of aesthetics (Rancière, 2004: 25) can be interpreted as a means of understanding how aesthetics can be used to enact a form of political praxis. Using Rancière and Murray Bookchin s concept of social ecology as a basis for my artistic practice, I claim that photography can not only make the existent reality of pollution visible, it can also initiate a form of participatory democratic subjectivity, allowing the demands of the artist to become visible too. Moreover, in the design and dissemination of the three photobooks I have created, I make a case for a collaborative model of artistic practice, which extends beyond the medium specificity of photograph, and embraces multimodality and trans-disciplinarity, as a means of situating the photograph into a broader discursive field.