Recently, my thoughts have turned to natural history. I have to confess, that this is not my favourite genre, although perhaps I should say WAS not my favourite. My eyes have been opened to new ways of looking at nature and I’m now slightly obsessed.
It started with ‘Into the Woods: Trees in Photography’. A small show, and the first from the V&A to include images from the RPS collection. I then visited couple of exhibitions in Vienna: Visions of Nature (on until 18th Feb, see it if you can) and Natural Histories: Traces of the Political. Both of these were very different from the photography I normally associate with natural history, because of the emphasis on man’s relationship with nature. For example, with a nod to Joel Sternfeld’s On This Site, how nature reclaims what man borrows for politically-motivated violence. Meanwhile, I bought Night Procession – the latest book from one of my favourite photographers, Stephen Gill. And this got me thinking … if my hitherto urban heroes are following the natural world, I’m missing out on something.
So I’ve started my own nature project – the compost heap. I’m using photography to explore how it changes. Bread disappears, fungi appear, paper decomposes, the parsnip has been there for a month now. I no longer feel guilty about wastage, as I’m feeding the wildlife. How many bits of stale baguette does an average freezer need on the basis that it will be one day turned into garlic bread? Or more likely thrown out anyway to make room for the fishfingers. I’m beginning to know what the local wildlife population enjoys by what disappears overnight. Carrots are not popular, but bread and meat, along with the bits of fluff from the tumble dryer vanish within hours. And the cigarette butts may not appeal to the fauna, but when they rot down, the nicotine is, supposedly, very good for the flora. The next experiment will be to put a patch of old carpet in the corner and watch the moss grow. Yes, the compost heap is proving to be a most educational project.
If it’s going to be valid as research though, I must ensure that I don’t curate the compost; carrots for dinner because the images need a tad of colour …
An abbreviated version of this blog post was published in the RPS Journal (February 2018)