Intersectional Geographies: How can photography be used to understand unsustainable industries plus our demand on the environment?

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The exhibition, opening tomorrow, brings together the work associated with 12 artists who consider the complexities of human interaction with the land and climate justice

The term ‘intersectionality’ is used to spell it out how the individual experiences of race, class, gender as well as social conditions and oppressive states overlap. It was coined by the Black feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, and is a key concept that binds the work of 12 artists, including Lisa Barnard , Darek Fortas, Aida Silvestri, Rhiannon Adam and David Severn , on show at the Martin Parr Foundation . Intersectional Geographies, curated by Jacqueline Ennis-Cole, considers the history of the human relationship to the land, drawing on projects that particularly consider the complexities of humans taking from nature, through the visual language of photography.  

Born in Manchester, Ennis-Cole is a neuro-diverse curator, performance poet and visual artist. The exhibition was originally due to coincide with COP26 last year, which influenced the thinking behind the subject. But it is also the result of years of consideration and inspiration from iconic photographic works such as David Goldblatt’s, On the Mines (1973). “ Recently, I have been reflecting on an album track by Hugh Masekela called ‘Coal Train (Stimela)’. The song is poetic and descriptive and was very influential in transporting me through the imagination in to a place of empathy, ” Ennis-Cole recalls. “Also, the subhuman work conditions of the indigenous sub-African miners […] the failures of the Paris COP25 conference. And, the 25+ years of relationship with the people from North and South America, including their spiritual cosmology and eco-activism. Standing Rock and Winona LaDuke’s stand to protect the The Anishinaabe Great Lakes. I have been attuned to the Earth and the ones who are intent on preserving humanity. ”

Ahead of the show’s opening, we ask Ennis-Cole to tell us more about the motivation for the exhibitions, her research and her curatorial decisions

Inside the tent at Maple Farm Community Hub. Preston New Road, Blackpool, UK from ‘The Rift: Fracking in the UK’ © Rhiannon Adam

Twenty-Eight Points 2014 from ‘Nitrate © Xavier Ribas

BJP: Exactly why is it important to understand and look back on history in an intersectional way?

JE-C: I would rephrase the question and ask why is looking back on photographic history of value? I say this because I envision each of these presentations as existing first and foremost within the histories of photography and visual culture. Of course, this work will be of interest to diverse audiences, including those interested and engaged within the field of geography, geology, labour rights, female genital mutilation, sustainability and so forth.

From an educational perspective, artists and photographers will find such histories useful and informative within their understanding of the functionality of photography, the visual qualities of photography and the physicality and materiality of photography. Within the context of broader collective voices there needs to be documentations of photographic histories to ensure that there are appropriate references and visual conversations and dialogues rooted in a deep contemplation and reflexivity.

Such photographic histories are ‘intersectional’ though maybe not in the way Kimberlé Crenshaw had intended the word to be used, that is to say the experiences of dual oppression, including the negative impacts of this lived experience.  

From ‘Like Gold Dust’ (2019) © Roshini Kempadoo

Copper Forest from ‘Copper Geographies: Metallic Threads’ © Ignacio Acosta

BJP: What connects these images is their scrutiny of industries where folks are taking from the land, by way of mining and quarrying for example. Why did you focus on this aspect of the human relationship with the environment for this exhibition?

JEC: That’s an interesting question! One reaction to your question about the focus on inclusivity is to appreciate the visual reference to a place or site as well as to ‘black collar’ labour. I am enthusiastic about who is expected by society to do this work, how they have been valued, what their labour conditions are. And what happens when these unsustainable industries collapse and/or are no more profitable to the capitalists who govern them? Further to that public discourse, I am interested in what happens within the domestic and/or private realm such as the environmental impacts on health.

To better understand the human demand within the industry, one would need to be aware of the local tensions within Bristol around class and ethnicity, and the wider call from the COP26 activism and the contradictions that were happening at the global, corporate, national, and governmental level. For example when the UK was publicly supporting phasing out coal power energy, at the same time the government was entertaining opening a new coal mine.  

From ‘Beneath Us’ (2019-2021), © Jacqueline Ennis-Cole

Oswald Ozzie Roberts from ‘The Pits of Nations: Black British Coal Miners’ © David Severn

From ‘The Canary and the Hammer’ © Lisa Barnard

BJP: You mention that particular emphasis was placed on inclusivity and the presentation of different perspectives. Could you elaborate on this, and just why it is important?

JEC: I am thinking about building ‘communities of practice’. My practice and interests circle around lens-based work (filmmaking and photography), curation, performance and poetry.  

For example , I selected three images that focus on an indigenous-run mine. Indigenous communities are involved in small-scale mining of the lands that they take care of. I am interested in learning about how these community mining websites are different from industrial ways to mining, including how the profits are spent – are they reinvested in the miners and their families or are they divided up between invisible shareholders?

Aida Silvestri’s work addresses how families are implicated in the practice of extraction – the taking away of sexual pleasure, the cutting and extraction from young female bodies – also known as female genital mutilation (FGM). Young people, after all, are unable to protect themselves against the influential control and power of decision-making they’ve within their households. The project was commissioned by the human rights and social justice organisation Autograph and the project involved educating NHS workers and the public. Aida’s work, in that sense, is working with industry – that is if we may describe the NHS as a kind of industry.  

My project Beneath Us is an exemplory case of the reverse. A decommissioned site where people are giving back to the land. It is also a place worthy of commemoration as the oil sourced from that woodland went a long way towards the fight against fascism in the UK, as Texan oil drillers were flown in undercover to exploit and drill that oil for military purposes. Some 70 years later, activists and ordinary people are demanding that fossil fuels be kept in the ground.  

So in this sense, I place inclusivity centre stage, perhaps though I interpreted the term in a nonconventional way.

BJP: What do you hope the viewers will take away from this exhibition?  

JEC. Photography and poetry are in many ways sibling practices; at times I turn to photography and at other moments to poetry – here are the final lines of a poem by Dorianne Laux:

We know we’re doomed,

Done for, damned, and still

The light reaches us, falls

On our shoulders nevertheless,  

Even here where in fact the moon is 

Hidden from us, despite the fact that

the stars are so far away.  

Intersectional Geographies, curated by Jacqueline Ennis-Cole, is on show at the Martin Parr Foundation from  27 January – 03 April 2022.

Izabela Radwanska Zhang

Beginning as an intern back in 2016, Izabela Radwanska Zhang is now the Editorial Director of British Journal of Photography in print and online. Her words have appeared in Disegno and Press Association. Prior to this, she completed a MA in Magazine Journalism at City University, London, and most recently, a Postgrad Certificate in Graphic Design at London College of Communication.

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