In 2019, The British Youth Council declared the climate emergency the “biggest issue facing young people”. This headline is taken from the Planting for the Planet exhibition, held at RHS Garden Bridgewater in 2022. In this exhibition, I worked with young people from Action for Conservation to explore nature-based solutions to climate change. Through the process of collaborating with, and learning from, a group of young people to make images for the exhibition, my creative practice changed forever.
We were making work about nature-based solutions to climate change, so I wondered, are there any plant-based photographic techniques? Turns out there’s loads.
As soon as I started to learn about it – it made total sense – plants create energy using light – they are light sensitive, they contain pigments that adapt and change with changes in light intensity. My mind was blown, I was hooked.
But what hooked me in deeper was that I could suddenly create photographs in my kitchen at home. The process is safe and non-toxic, even edible, and I could create anthotype paper at home in my kitchen whilst I made my daughter’s breakfast. I’ve been a photographer for 20 years but setting up a home darkroom has always felt like too big a task – for many reasons, not least, toxic waste.
Perfection in the imperfection.
It is a parody of the industrial world that in searching for photographic perfection, faster shutter speeds, sharper images – steps towards the sublime – we have created a toxic world. Maybe the perfection is actually found in the imperfections, in these green pictures which will fade to nothing when left out in the sun.
And from here, well it makes you wonder, if we don’t need to use these harmful substances, why do we?
So I now work with sustainable photographic processes almost as a metaphor for sustainable practices, sustainable lives. As a way of starting a conversation – if we can do this using only plants – what else can we do using only plants?
I grew some beetroot, made anthotypes out of the juice, film developer out of the peelings, and pickled the beets to eat for lunch. You don’t need much money and you certainly don’t need perfection. The beauty of this process is in the imperfection, and the accessibility of the practice.
So we invite you to join us: pick some spinach from the community growing space (but also make sure you join in and plant some more!) make some anthotypes, cook a curry, use the vegetable peelings to develop your film, ask some new questions.
Share the spoils of your practice with those around you. Put up a picture, pass on a plate of food, share your experience. And let us know what else you decide to do differently.
Sustaining Photography is a collaborative project by Lizzie King & Gwen Riley Jones to connect and engage students at the University of Salford with sustainable photographic processes, using produce from the University’s Community Growing Space. The project is based at The University of Salford and has been funded by the Salford Advantage Fund and The University of Salford Art Collection.
Over the course of the year, current MA student and past Graduate Scholarship recipient Lizzie King, and socially-engaged photographer Gwen Riley Jones have been working together on Sustaining Photography.
Sustaining Photography is a collaborative project to connect and engage students at the University with sustainable photographic processes. Lizzie and Gwen have been working together throughout the year to grow produce in the Community Growing Space and explore how these can be used to create plant-based alternatives to traditional photographic methods, which use harmful chemicals.
An exhibition showcasing the collaborative artwork Lizzie and Gwen have created during the project so far is now on display in the University’s Community Growing Space. Alongside the artwork, you can see the produce being grown, and find recipes they have developed for the plant-based photographic methods they have used to make the work.
Feeling Inspired? You can now get involved in a series of events being held as part of the wider Sustaining Photography exhibition. The events programme includes artist talks from Edd Carr and Tamsin Green, photography workshops, and portfolio reviews for current students. You can find the full details of each event here.
June 2023 Marta Strzelecka, University Sustainability Engagement Officer
The University of Salford Art Collection Team has been awarded two Green Impact National Awards: Innovation for Engagement and Sustainability Hero, for their continuing commitment to sustainability action and engagement.
Every year, Green Impact Special Awards are given out across institutions to people and teams who go above and beyond for sustainability. These Special Award winners are then put forward for consideration for the Green Impact National Awards. This year, the Art Collection Team received two national awards!
The first one – Innovation for Engagement – recognises ways in which Green Impact teams have engaged more people in sustainability activities, supporting staff and students to learn about and lead on sustainability. This award spotlights creative innovation in the engagement: the more people we can actively engage, the bigger the positive impact we can make.
The Art Collection Team, led by Team Assistant Rowan Pritchard, won thanks to the largest outreach and impact, international engagement and multiple stakeholders in their programmes and projects. At the end of last year, the Team also won a Platinum Green Impact award for their sustainability efforts within their department, including implementing an office switch-off campaign to save energy, ensuring the use of reusable items such as bags and packaging, and introducing plants to green up the office.
There’s a clear commitment to sustainability in the Team’s programme and way of working. The main sustainability actions taken by the Team to win the awards include:
The Are You Living Comfortably? photography project, showcasing work from artists McCoy Wynne, created through a pilot artists residency the Team hosted with the University’s Energy House facility and in partnership with Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool. The artwork, created in response to themes of climate change, energy efficiency and retrofitting, has been on display in both Liverpool and Salford during 2022, alongside displays of research materials, videos, and a series of online events and more to engage audiences of thousands. The work was also selected to feature online in the COP26 showcase, and has since gone on loan to Bury Art Museum.
The You Belong Here: Rediscovering Salford’s Green Spaces exhibition, displayed at Salford Museum & Art Gallery, was launched as part of the city-wide Rediscovering Salford programme, encouraging audiences of over 16,000 to reconsider and reconnect with the green spaces around them through exciting newly commissioned artworks in response to Salford’s parks and green spaces. Alongside the exhibition, the Team ran a programme of engagement including tours, talks, and workshops to encourage participants to engage with their own local environments and reconnect with the nature around them. The exhibition was led on behalf of the Salford Culture and Place Partnership, and the wider project was generously supported by Arts Council England and Suprema Lex.
The Peer to Peer: UK/HK 2022 project, led by the Team in collaboration with Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool, supported 9 UK visual arts organisations and 9 Hong Kong visual arts organisations, along with more than 43 artists, and over 160 students to connect, create work, and develop enduring partnerships internationally while rethinking the ways of working remotely to mitigate the environmental impacts of long-haul air travel. This resulted in an online festival, promoting these ways of working through talks and the artwork created during the project to encourage others to consider new ways of connecting with others while minimising their carbon footprint.
In response to winning the award, Rowan said:
Taking part in Green Impact has been a challenging and inspiring process. When we began on our Green Impact journey, I don’t think any of us expected that we would win a national award. It has been a huge honour to be recognised in this way and serves as a reminder of how impactful working sustainably can be.
As a part of our University and local community and as a resource people look to, it is important to us at the Collection that we not only encourage others to work in sustainable ways, but that we lead by example, and show how even the smallest acts contribute to wider change.
We are now more motivated than ever to continue our sustainability journey. Through projects like Hybrid Futures, we’re already thinking about how our sustainability work can be more wide-reaching, working in partnership with other arts organisations and artists, as well as a cohort of community leaders who we hope will be able to spread the learning and tools needed for working more sustainably even further than before.
The second award – Sustainability Hero – recognises a person with extraordinary commitment to sustainability within a Green Impact team, as nominated by their colleagues.
Gwen Riley Jones, the Socially Engaged Photographer-in-Residence with the Art Collection Team in 2021/22, won for going far beyond the actions outlined in the Green Impact toolkit. Her work in collaboration with youth groups explored non-toxic, plant-based methods of photography and printing. The judges described her process to achieve maximum engagement through their work as “impeccable”. The group’s work has been viewed by over 50,000 people through a display with partner organisation RHS Garden Bridgewater, and it is artistically promoting awareness of plant-based techniques. The judges loved the creative heritage links, too.
In the nomination, Gwen’s colleagues wrote:
Gwen Riley Jones is our team’s Sustainability Hero. Over the last 12 months she has worked with over 100 people at different creative workshops, exploring plant-based methods of photography and printing. This has included making her own spinach anthotypes, a plant-based method of printing using no chemicals. Her work with anthotypes and the Action for Conservation youth group led to an exhibition of the plant-based work at the RHS Garden Bridgewater in Salford. Over 50k people visited this exhibition, raising significant awareness of plant-based methods of creating and hopefully inspiring others to explore sustainable ways of working.
At each step of the way she has considered sustainability, ordering reusable film cameras rather than disposable ones, printing all the exhibition materials on compostable boards, and ordering entirely vegan food for her week of activity with Action for Conservation.
Demonstrating incredible commitment to sustainability within her work, Gwen has continued to explore even further how she can reduce the number of unsustainable chemicals she works with, now exploring ways of creating photographic developers using composting vegetables. Gwen’s work over the last 12 months has really inspired us to take initiative as a team and really push the ways we can be more sustainable in our everyday practices.
In response to winning the award, Gwen said:
Issues around climate change and sustainability can feel overwhelming, but I have found that by collaborating with people and working together it feels more achievable. Each action, each thought, helps us to ask more questions and think about how we can change our practices – step by step – to create a bigger impact.
When we started this journey, I had no idea of the places it would go, I certainly didn’t expect to be winning any awards for it. It has been my privilege to collaborate with young people on these projects as, in my experience, they immediately have answers and I have learnt so much from working together.
This work will have no end and will continue to develop alongside the creativity. I have a huge thanks to give to the whole Art Collection Team for their commitment to sustainability and for their encouragement. Also, a huge thank you to the ever-expanding networks of people who are willing to share ideas and try new things to try to live, study and work more sustainably.
Gwen has since gone on to collaborate with MA Fine Art student Lizzie King and the University’s Sustainability Team, to produce a further series of events and displays on campus entitled ‘Sustaining Photography’ taking place in Summer/Autumn 2023, supported by the Advantage Fund.
The Team are grateful to Marta Strzelecka, University Sustainability Engagement Officer, for her support during the Green Impact project – and encourage any other departments thinking of joining to give it a go!
The national judging panel was made up of Vibhati Bhatia (Founder of South Asians for Sustainability), Charlotte Bonner (CEO of EAUC), Grace Corn (Senior Engagement Officer: Climate Emergency for Westminster City Council) and Rebecca Turner (Careers Pathway Manager at IEMA).
About Green Impact
Green Impact is a sustainability engagement programme, run internationally by SOS-UK. It’s a simple, fun and flexible way for departments to improve their environmental performance and champion sustainability at the University, whilst receiving recognition for their efforts and impact.
Colleagues form teams across the University and work through an online toolkit of actions together. A team can be any size and cover an office, building, department, or even a whole School or Division. Each action on the toolkit is allocated either 5, 10 or 15 points, and the team decides which actions to complete; the total number of points a team achieves will determine whether they receive a ‘working towards Bronze’ accreditation or a Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum award.
Green Impact programme is open to all University of Salford staff members.