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Unlearning Photography

Research Group: Biobased Art and Design

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.

A cyanobacteria culture gets a few drops of my blood. I think about the violence of this gesture and about contamination.
Colour and form experiment with wet (chemical) cyanotype developing processes.
Experimental setup with cyanobacteria in petri dishes, transparent sheet and a 200W LED growth light.
Organic photography experiment with emulsion made from cyanobacteria.

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

Principle investigator
Risk Hazekamp

Other researchers involved
Lars van Vianen

Elvin Karana

Avans University of Applied Sciences

‘It is through the “not-knowing” that a stimulating and caring environment can be created to confidently share vulnerability.’

Risk Hazekamp is researcher within the Biobased Art and Design research group and tutor for the Art & Research study programme at St. Joost School of Art & Design. 

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Research Group: Biobased Art and Design

The research group Biobased Art and Design capitalises on the role of artistic practice in unlocking the unique potentials of living organisms for everyday materials and communicating these to a broader public. In doing so, the group aims to instigate and accelerate our widespread understanding, further development and usage of such materials. The group’s research approach encourages tangible interactions with the living organisms, such as algae, fungi, plants and bacteria, to explore and understand their unique qualities and constraints through diverse technical and creative methods taking artists, designers and scientists as equal and active partners in the material creation.

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