What a mess…

            The inspiration for this particular body of work started with the Spanish word Cochino. My partner would tell her six-year old son not to make “cochinadas” or, as she would explain to me, messes. After hearing the word numerous times, I decided to research its English translation, which provided the definitions: filthy, dirty, and unpleasant. This led me to consider the photographic industry’s environmental impact and how I could present the “mess” it has made since the medium's inception.

            I had heard stories of Kodak and the company’s subsequent pollution but never paid too close attention at the time. I was still in denial since it didn’t affect me personally. A quick online search yielded an overabundance of articles incriminating Kodak’s toxic footprint. I was left with a vision of chemical stains and toxic water.

            The creation of this work was an act of photographic heresy; willfully exposing the photo paper knowing that it would be punctured, mashed, and stitched together like some unwanted monster. “What a waste”, I heard my conscience say. “All those years of programmed submission to the zone system,” it countered as I brought each sheet to the needle. There have been 33 documented cases of brain cancer in children living within five miles of the Kodak facility.[1] Methylene chloride, acetone, and methanol have all been found in ground water and soil vapors. How can I feel good about making pristine images of nature with a medium that is actively destroying the environment?

            Since the inception of the medium, photography has actively engaged in topographic representations. From the life studies of Henry Fox-Talbot to the grandeur of Ansel Adams, photography has been used to comment on the relationship between humans and the land that they occupy. Faced now with the current ecological uncertainties that accompany climate change, I believe that it is disingenuous to present romanticized or idyllic images of nature.

            Yes, I felt tremendous guilt each time I yanked the paper out of the box. It was, after all, ‘nice paper’. Present in the exhibition is a collection of vintage fiber-based paper from Kodak, Agfa, Ilford, and the now inappropriately titled Oriental Photographic Paper, all lovingly cared for and donated with reverence. Still, I felt compelled to make these messes, these cochinadas, as a reflection of the collective environmental concerns brought on, in part, by the photographic industry. Here, the means to make an idealized photograph is instead used to make a filthy mess that parallels the consequences of the photographic industry’s impact on nature.

            In 2014, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation sent a press release announcing that “Remediation Activities at Eastman Business Park Will Continue” despite Kodak’s bankruptcy.[2] This is a small victory considering that Kodak has been under environmental scrutiny since the 1980’s while presumably polluting the Genesee River (a tributary of Lake Ontario that runs through Rochester, NY) for over a century. Again, I was left with the vision of a constant trickle of chemistry.

            The sculpture Genesee is a 33-inch cube with a steady seeping of photo developer located at the top of the piece. The dimensions are inspired by the documented cases of brain cancer in children living within five miles of the Kodak facility. The sculpture functions similarly to a Surrealist automatic drawing machine by creating random compositions of chemical washes pooling over 11x14” sheets of light sensitive black-and-white paper. Water from the Genesee River was acquired through the generous help of volunteers living within the vicinity of the area. Instead of a didactic presentation of research, I wanted to use this non-representational gesture to reference the beauty of destruction, as well as the destruction of beauty.

            However, herein lies a dreadful contradiction. I am still fascinated with the alchemy of photographic chemicals and the range of benefits they have had for modern society, yet there is no escaping the tragic effects these chemicals have had on the land and its inhabitants. As an artist and photographer, I do not see an ethical escape from this quandary. Digital technology yields its own form of environmental destruction with its techno-trash and e-waste. Caffenol (the use of phenols, sodium carbonate, and Vitamin C) offers alternative developing options (coffee being the most common) but a non-toxic fixing solution remains out of reach. As a result, I view photography as paradoxically a poison and a cure. 

[1] Niman, Michael “Kodak’s Toxic Moments”, AlterNet.org, 28 May 2003 (http://www.alternet.org/story/16030/kodak%27s_toxic_moments).

[2] “DEC Announces That RemediationActivities at Eastman Business Park will Continue”, Department of Environmental Conservation, 13 May 2014 (http://www.dec.ny.gov/press/96996.html).

Prev | Next (1 of 14)

  • Untitled (Cochino Landscape #2 - Palm Frond), 2017

    Black-and-white chemigram accentuated with thread

  • Untitled (Cochino Landscape #3), 2017

    Black-and-white chemigram accentuated with thread

  • Untitled (Cochino Landscape #1), 2017

    Black-and-white chemigram accentuated with thread

  • Unpleasant Landscape #1, 2017

    Black-and-white chemigram accentuated with dirt and weeds 8 x 10 in

  • Unpleasant Landscape #2, 2017

    Black-and-white chemigram accentuated with dirt and weeds 8 x 10 in

  • Unpleasant Landscape #4, 2017

    Black-and-white chemigram accentuated with dirt 8 x 10 in

  • Unpleasant Landscape #3, 2017

    Black-and-white chemigram accentuated with dirt and weeds 8 x 10 in

  • Unpleasant Landscape #5, 2017

    Black-and-white chemigram accentuated with dirt 8 x 10 in

  • 33 (Unpleasant Banner), 2017

    Black-and-white chemigram accentuated with thread

  • Untitled 118, 2017

    Black-and-white chemigram 10 x 8 in

  • Untitled (Cochino Landscape #6), 2017

    Black-and-white chemigram accentuated with thread

  • Untitled (Cochino Landscape - Drips), 2017

    Black-and-white chemigram accentuated with thread

  • Genesee (Beautiful Valley), 2017

    Genesee River Water, Kodak Dektol developer, unfixed photo-paper, water pump Fabricated by Rusty Patton