Unlearning Photography is a research project in which living photography is investigated. As an artist working with analogue photography, researcher Risk Hazekamp is facing the two inherent downsides of the photographic medium: its toxicity and its racism.
Toxicity and photography are intimately linked: for example, in the preservation of analogue photos by chemical fixation. Almost all analogue processes use non-degradable chemical compounds.
Photography’s racism is embedded in how the medium has been shaped by and used in violent colonial practices of defining, categorizing and creating the visible. But it is also present in technical aspects, such as the fact that film emulsion could not register dark tones the same way as light tones.
Unlearning photography searches for a way out of these toxic histories. One part starts with making light-sensitive emulsions of organic material; first to create ephemeral images and eventually working towards living images. Another part is to delink from photography’s normative practices and power relations.
In both cases the ideal interlocutors are Cyanobacteria. As the first forms of life to produce oxygen in our atmosphere, Cyanobacteria changed the Earth around 2.3 billion years ago. Nowadays however, Cyanobacteria are often misnamed as blue-green algae, causing confusion about their toxicity. As a result, instead of being known as one of our biggest oxygen providers, they are mostly seen as a nuisance or even a threat. The way Cyanobacteria turned from source of life to something toxic could provide profound insight into the way we interact with each other and with our more-than-human others.
Through listening to and caring for our oldest ancestor, the Cyanobacteria, this research connects a decolonial praxis with ecological questions and doing biobased research. In this way, the wisdom of Cyanobacteria is linked to the artistic practice of the researcher, seeking breathing images in which transformation is the work, and the result is always in the making.
Ongoing research, started September 2020
Other researchers involved
Lars van Vianen
Avans University of Applied Sciences