Mining Photography

The Ecological Footprint of Image Production

Period of time
15.7.22 – 31.10.22
Teaser text

Ever since its invention, photography has depended on the global extraction and exploitation of so-called natural resources. In the early 19th century, these were salt, fossil fuels such as bitumen and carbon, as well as copper and silver, which were all used for the first images on copper plates and for salt paper prints. By the late 20th century, the photographic industry was one of the most important consumers of silver, responsible, at its peak, for more than half of the metal’s global consumption. Today, with the advent of digital photography and the ubiquity of mobile devices, image production is contingent on rare earths and metals such as coltan, cobalt, and europium. Image storage and distribution also consume immense amounts of energy. One scholar recently observed that Americans produce more photographs every two minutes than were made in the entire nineteenth century. "Mining Photography: The Ecological Footprint of Image Production" is dedicated to the material history of key resources used for image production, addressing the social and political context of their extraction and waste and its relation to climate change. Using historical photographs and contemporary artistic positions as well as interviews with restorers, geologists, and climate researchers, the exhibition tells the story of photography as one of industrial production, showing the extent to which the medium has been deeply intertwined with the human change of the environment. By focusing on the ways by which industrial image production has been materially and ideologically implicated in climate change, rather merely using it to depict its consequences, the exhibition employs a radically new perspective towards this subject.

Participating artists: Ignacio Acosta, Eduard Christian Arning, Lisa Barnard, Hermann Biow, F&D Cartier, Klasse Digitale Grafik – HFBK Hamburg (Mari Lebanidze, Miao ‘Cleo’ Yuekai, Leon Schweer und Marco Wesche), Oscar und Theodor Hofmeister, Susanne Kriemann, Honoré d’Albert de Luynes und Louis Vignes, Jürgen Friedrich Mahrt, Mary Mattingly, Charles Nègre, Optics Division of the Metabolic Studio (Lauren Bon, Tristan Duke und Richard Nielsen), Madame d’Ora, Lisa Rave, Hermann Reichling, Alison Rossiter, Daphné Nan Le Sergent, Robert Smithson, Anaïs Tondeur, James Welling, Noa Yafe, Tobias Zielony

The exhibition is curated by artist, author and curator Boaz Levin and Dr. Esther Ruelfs, Head of the Photography and New Media Collection at MK&G. In cooperation with Kunsthaus Wien, Gewerbemuseum Winterthur and the HFBK Hamburg.

An exhibition kindly supported by the Alfried-Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Stiftung, the NUE Foundation (North German Foundation for Environment and Development) from proceeds of BINGO! Die Umweltlotterie, by Pro Helvetia, Artis and the Institut français Deutschland.

Media partner: ARTE









Exhibition catalogue

Ein Buchcover mit Text und mehreren Fotodarstellungen.

Mining Photography. The Ecological Footprint of Image Production

The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication (German/English) with contributions by Siobhan Angus, Nadia Bozak, Boaz Levin, Brett Neilson, Esther Ruelfs, Christoph Ribbat, Karen Soli, 174 pages, Spector Verlag, Leipzig. 36 euros.

Available in our museum shop.