Photography has always depended on the extraction and exploitation of so-called natural raw materials. Having started out using copper, coal, silver, and paper—the raw materials of analogue image production in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—photography now relies, in the age of the smartphone, on rare earths and metals like coltan, cobalt, and europium. The exhibition focuses on the history of key raw materials utilized in photography and establishes a connection between the history of their extraction, their disposal, and climate change. Looking at historical and contemporary works, it tells the story of photography as a history of industrial production and demonstrates that the medium is deeply implicated in human-induced changes to nature. The exhibition shows contemporary works by a range of photographers and artists, including Ignacio Acosta, Lisa Barnard, F&D Cartier, Susanne Kriemann, Mary Mattingly, Daphné Nan Le Sergent, Lisa Rave, Alison Rossiter, Metabolic Studio’s Optics Division, Robert Smithson, Simon Starling, Anaïs Tondeur, James Welling, Noa Yafe and Tobias Zielony, along with historical works by Eduard Christian Arning, Hermann Biow, Oscar and Theodor Hofmeister, Jürgen Friedrich Mahrt, Hermann Reichling, and others, and historical material from the Agfa Foto-Historama in Leverkusen, the Eastman Kodak Archive in Rochester and the FOMU Photo Museum in Antwerp as well as mineral samples collected by Alexander von Humboldt from the collection of the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin.
Texts: Siobhan Angus, Nadia Bozak, Boaz Levin, Christopher Lützen, Brett Neilson, Christoph Ribbat, Esther Ruelfs, Sven Schumacher, Karen Solie, Julia Wiedenmann
Esther Ruelfs is an art historian and head of the Photography and New Media Collection at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MK&G). Boaz Levin is a writer, freelance curator, and co-founder of the Research Center for Proxy Politics.