Rice grains snake diagonally across an intense blue ground. Only at second glance does the image reveal its meaning, one as deep as the cyanotype’s indigo. The photographic process references the dawn of photography in the nineteenth century, while the rice grains evoke nature and nourishment. They also allude to the 1943 famine in Bengal (now Bangladesh) caused by the hoarding of grain by British colonial troops, as well as the mass cultivation for export of the lucrative indigo plant, used for dye.
The consequences of systematic and profit-orientated human interventions in existing ecosystems are among the most urgent matters facing us today. Flooded valleys and coastal cities, desolate landscapes and parched fields, melting glaciers and destroyed buildings are just some of the images that reach us daily, showing the effects of the climate crisis. And yet they are oddly intangible, supposedly unconnected to human actions.
In light of the growing awareness that the invention of photography coincided with industrialization and fossil capitalism, and thus with the start of climate change, more and more photographers are searching for new ways of critically examining the negative impacts that our globalized, technology-based capitalist system has on our climate. However, the exhibition focuses not on documenting the destruction of the environment, but rather on the many causes for this destruction, and the complex connections between them. Moreover, the conditions under which images are produced are critically examined. Photography itself, whether analogue or digital, is part of the environmental crisis because it consumes resources, labor, energy, and materials, and necessitates transport.
The group exhibition Image Ecology presents a global cross-section of twelve contemporary artistic responses in the form of photographs, video works, and installations. The artists employ experimental and traditional production methods, historical processes, as well as new technologies. The exhibition lays out the stages of the metabolic process in four thematically linked parts—Energy, Material, Labor, and Waste, ending by returning to the start with Energy.
Alongside cyanotypes (Material), there are natural prints made using plant-based emulsions that fade over time when exposed to light (Energy). Also featured is a video piece about the supply chains of global capitalist consumption underpinning digital image technologies and the uninterrupted colonialist exploitation of resources and laborers in the D.R. Congo (Labor), as well as photographs printed from negatives developed in river water so contaminated by mining activity that it has turned acidic and red (Waste).
By revealing the links and interdependencies of human and nonhuman life around the world, Image Ecology opposes the assumption of a dualistic understanding of nature versus culture. How can the world be more fairly organized given the challenges posed by ecological, economic, and social crises? The exhibition encourages human action and transnational solidarity, opening possibilities for forward-looking ecological photography practices.
The exhibition is curated by Boaz Levin (guest curator) and Dr. Kathrin Schönegg. A catalogue with Spector Books is presented on the occasion of the exhibition.
With works by Ignacio Acosta, Louise Purbrick & Xavier Ribas; Tuur Van Balen & Revital Cohen; Julian Charrière; Carolina Caycedo; Tristan Duke; Richard Frater; Léa Habourdin; Coline Jourdan; Susanne Kriemann; Su Yu Hsin; Munem Wasif und Tobias Zielony.
Image Ecology marks the start of a long-term consideration of nature and ecology in contemporary fine-art photography through exhibitions at C/O Berlin. In 2024, C/O Berlin will award the annual After Nature . Ulrike Crespo Photography Prize, together with Crespo Foundation. The prize recognizes two individuals or groups with an existing exhibition and publication practice who explore new concepts of nature in the Anthropocene era.
When film and photography unite, there is double reason to rejoice! On the occasion of the exhibition Image Ecology, C/O Berlin together with the arthouse streaming service and film distributor MUBI, is giving away hand-picked films to all visitors for 30 days with every ticket purchase. Inspired by the content of the group show, MUBI will simultaneously present a curated film series starting from September 15th.
Look forward to the MUBI Night at C/O Berlin in November.