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Photography in a climate time

COPENHAGEN PHOTO FESTIVAL / Photography can capture nature, document it, but also process nature. Showcase the being, the exotic, the disappearing in a special way.


I have set out to write about Photographyet. And more precisely the relation of photography to natureone and the changes, which must be said to be one of the greatest and most pressing issues of our time.

Is it monstrous therefore I already on arrival to Copenhagen Photo Festival on Refshaleøen in central Copenhagen see the photographs with leaves and other plants? That I immediately take note of the natural motifs and disregard what does not evoke a natural sound? I see the photographs all the more in a special way because I have focused on looking for the nature in them and looking for what the photograph has to say about nature. To spot something is also to decide to spot it. Already there, photography can draw our attention to something and not to anything else. If it can be transferred to elements other than the photograph itself, it will also mean that the photograph can help to tone the attention we have to the world. What do our eyes see in the world? It depends, among other things, on what we have seen in photographs.

One of the buildings houses Norwegian Io Sivertsen's work «BBQ & Apocalypse», a piece of video art.

Well, back to the Copenhagen. The sun is shining, a windmill is spinning. I feel a faint breeze, where I sit with a view of the photographs, which are housed in containers, small wooden houses or just directly out in what can be called nature, although we are so central in Copenhagen that you can get a few hundred meters from here go into the stronghold of culture and pay 10.000 kroner for dinner at a restaurant Alchemist. An alchemist is associated with goldsmithing and the notion that everything can be created from the four elements – but further back in history, alchemists were also thinkers, mystics and natural philosophers. They believed in chemistry as a method of producing substances and creating transformation, but the alchemists also originally had a spiritual superstructure, thereby breaking down the divide between nature and culture. Perhaps the gourmet food at Alchemist is such a transformation from nature's ingredients over the chemical kitchen, but added a touch of spirituality, which makes the food lighter. And perhaps photography is in the same way a medium that has both a chemical side in the photographic technique but which, especially in the capture of nature's motifs, also seems to be a transcendent medium that is neither only nature nor culture.

Nature deposited

Then I feel the pressure to pee. This thoroughly basic feeling that something is pressing on. And immediately the urge to leave the water right here in nature shows up. Why does it feel so much better to pee outdoors than on a toilet? There is something primitive about the urge. To piss off its territory. But also to approach nature. Connect to it via the piss. Feel the wind creeping around the dick. There is something alluring about this being-in-nature. Perhaps it is the same alluring feeling that the curators of the exhibition in Copenhagen have worked with. In any case, several of the photographs are located outside, in the grass itself, on the ground, near the trees. Thus, they become a part of the landscape that seems all the more relevant. It wants us something.

Rise Marlon Weston

Norwegian Stig Marlon Weston's photographs appear most harmonious and organic. Actually, these are not photographs in the traditional sense, for no camera has been used in the creation of the visual material. On the other hand, Weston in collaboration with activists and researchers traveled in the Amazon and developed a technique that allows the deposition of nature directly on the photo paper. This is done through a lighting process, where the paper reacts not only to the shadow of the subject (the absence of light) but also to the ambient temperature, humidity and physical touches. Nature thus also plays an active role in photography, as its movements and forces are deposited directly in the image. Ergo, the visual expression is almost an imprint of and with the surrounding, and since Weston intends to visualize climate change, the material becomes a direct albeit refined kick in the climate debate. A reminder of the changes that human activity brings about in nature, but also a reminder that nature is alive and active – even when a photograph is to be created.

The birds fall from the sky

As an intermediate between culture and nature, we invent Refshale Island a few, simple constructions built in wood. They call on us. We have to go in there. It is reminiscent of being in an off sauna. The smell of wood, the feeling of the cramped space. Norwegian is housed in one of the buildings I Sivertsen her work «BBQ & Apocalypse», her piece of video art that thematizes man exposed to a global crisis. There is an oxygen energy in the film. A savagery. It comes from the people and their actions. But it is not constructive energy. The people in the film are bloody violent and out of themselves, and they are in a way that reveals that they have resigned. There is nothing more to do. Nature does not stand to save and thus not themselves. That is why people have gone into a trance. Let himself be doped by this feeling of inadequacy and paralysis of action that the world of all time perishes. Otherwise, as it is called somewhere in the dystopian voiceover: "While the Arctic is burning and the birds are falling from the sky, those left behind continue to party."

Norwegian Stig Marlon Weston's photographs appear most harmonious and organic.

Siversten apparently seeks to exhibit the passivity of our time when it comes to climate change. Perhaps the film is an accusation against the older generations, who leave it at that while only the children are fighting.

Out Behrend

Just as painting has its pastoral landscape painting, in the world of photography we also find an often idyllic and celebratory genre that bears the name landscape photography. It can be breathtaking images that make us marvel at the beauty of the planet and appreciate it. Landscape photography can even have an activist potential. We already saw this in the United States in the 1800th century, when William Henry Jackson's photographs from geological expeditions helped pave the way for the creation of Yellowstone National Park. However, landscape photographs can also be nauseating in their romantic stilting, merely seeking to show and not to think, not to interpret.

Out Behrend

An offer of a more modern and thoughtful landscape photography comes from German Out Behrend. Welcoming and colorful are her works. At first, it all seems a little too polished and banal. Like a pastoral postcard. You think for a while that you are observing a nature, but then you see the trick. The cactus is not a cactus but a lamp. The coniferous tree is a bottle cleaner with a related shape, reminiscent of the shape of the tree. One way to read the photographs is that these imitations of nature are what we have to settle for once nature is no longer here. Then we can make it in plastic and long back to the original nature. Another reading, however, could be that the opposition between nature and culture does not hold water, for one may resemble the other. Therefore, we as humans are not only the enemy of nature but also its potential friend. And if something is to be saved, it will require an effort from both us and nature. A symbiosis if you will. You can read that into the photograph – and then look at the world with it.

Steffen Moestrup
Steffen Moestrup
Regular contributor to MODERN TIMES, and docent at Denmark's Medie- og Journalisthøjskole.

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