Contemporary photographic representation of environmental issues with an emphasis on arts based constructed imagery

  • David J. Summerill

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This practice-based project investigates the uses of constructed photography to make comment on contemporary environmental issues. As humankind continues to develop, expand, and create new technology there is a growing awareness of the consequences of the waste accumulating from this expansion.

The representation of impacts from human actions on nature, through photography, is an extensive field of enquiry, which has been covered by a wide range of photographers working in different genres such as landscape, documentary, and constructed imagery. Within my study I have investigated the way that the portrayal in photography of concerns about the environment has
changed; from the picturing of ‘pristine’ nature in landscape photography by Ansel Adams to the constructed imagery of contemporary artists highlighting the detritus that pollutes the landscape.

My study aims to provide an analysis of the methods of the contemporary photographic artists Edward Burtynsky, Chris Jordan, Mandy Barker, and the artistic duo Sara Goldschmied and Eleonora Chiari. I investigate the processes and the aesthetics they use, in order to understand how they address the
relationship between humans and nature. In particular I have examined these artists’ use of the ‘sublime’ and the ‘beautiful’ and the ways they have developed these aesthetic categories to draw attention to environmental issues. The aim of my examination has been to identify what is interesting and important about the shifts in methods of representation in this field.

My practical research explores how photographic representations of the relationship between humans and nature can be created through fusing elements of electronic waste with plant life. My work confronts the serious ecological effects of electronic waste and its environmental consequences. My
exploration uses obsolete electronic objects and the detritus of technology as a type of land upon which nature is forced to grow. In studio conditions I have grown seeds on waste circuit boards and discarded wires from the computer industry. I have constructed and photographed images that resemble miniature imaginary worlds. By fabricating new landscapes out of technological waste and
plants, the images highlight the toxic relationship between humanity and nature in the contemporary world.
Date of AwardAug 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorAnna Fox (Supervisor)

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