Dark snow, Iceland, August 2014 (images Jason Box)
Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Gulf of Mexico, April 2010
Debates are currently taking place amongst scientists as to whether we have entered a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – to reflect humanity’s considerable impact upon earth, the outcome of which would formally bring an end to the current period of the Holocene. However, theorising these transformations purely in terms of their radical geological reorganisation, neglects their fundamental visual dynamics. Anthropogenic matter is relentlessly aesthetic in throwing disturbing images back at us: dirty pictures of dramatically warped landscapes and polluted atmospheres that both intoxicate and repulse. The term has itself migrated rapidly from the physical sciences into the arts and humanities to designate a condition whereby it is impossible to disarticulate nature from culture. It is within this expanded disciplinary context (with its theoretical adaptations of the anthropocene) that its particular relevance to this research initiative is situated. The research forwards the proposition that we have, by extension, also entered a new geo-photo-graphic era in which polluted environments have been transformed into vast photosensitive arrays that are registering and recording the transformations brought about by modern industrialisation and its contaminating processes. From the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the radioactive fallout at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, to the photochemical smog that enshrouds cities around the globe and the dark snow of the Arctic, a comprehensive image-archive of material wrongs has emerged. It’s investigations, drawn from these aforementioned research areas – irradiated zones, oil spills, dark snow, and smog scapes – offer paradigmatic case studies for exploring the agency of toxic materiality as a form of extreme imagery because of the unique manner in which industrial practices and environmental systems combine to produce photographic-like events that share many of the same optical properties and chemical processes identified with its lens-based technological predecessors.