Edd Carr sitting at the Saari residence studio.


Saari Residence


Towards more ecologically sustainable photography – an interview with artist Edd Carr


Saari Residence


Towards more ecologically sustainable photography – an interview with artist Edd Carr

British Edd Carr is an invited artist at Kone Foundation’s Saari Residence in November and December 2023. In his work, Carr uses cyanotype and other old imaging techniques that allude to picturesque Victorian imagery, and he revolutionises conventional aesthetics by using them to tell unconventional stories.

Carr’s images are wild, delicate and highly charged. They deal with violence against ecosystems and humans and, more broadly, humans’ relationship to the ecological crisis and non-human species. “My pieces are quite violent, but I’m not a violent person. The violence in my art is an expression of the powerful feelings I carry inside me,” Carr says. He goes on to say that he considers it important that viewers can also experience conflict and discomfort when viewing art.

Sustainable darkroom

Edd Carr’s experimental short films and photographs have been shown at several art fairs, galleries and festivals. Carr is also involved in Sustainable Darkroom, an organisation that researches and develops more environmentally friendly alternatives to analogue and digital photography processes and shares information through workshops and publications. It is a community where members engage in activities and learning together and where they discuss the potential futures of photography. It is not only about developing more ecological darkroom chemistries, but also about a new way of thinking about photography itself.

It is fascinating to consider how photographs could be created using various elements in nature. Could we be open to the possibility that a person alone does not decide what is ultimately shown in a photograph; could it be that the image is created in cooperation with the environment? Abandoning the ‘correct way’ to produce photographs might free an artist from the idea that there is such a thing as the ‘perfect’ photograph.

During his residence, Carr has led a workshop on alternative photography processes at the Saari Residence, which focuses on ecological themes, and at the Centre for Creative Photography in Jyväskylä. In addition, his documentary film Sustainable Darkroom was screened at Photographic Centre Peri in Turku at the beginning of December, followed by a discussion.

The November darkness and the landscapes of the Saari Residence have brought about a feeling of isolation from the rest of the world, allowing Carr to turn inward and engage in self-reflection.

Carr’s studio at the Saari Residence is full of jars of all kinds, containing plant-based developing agents for film, as well as jars with alternative gelatin mixtures made for coating the film during development. Hanging on a string are large cyanotype prints that Carr made during his first week at the residence. He also prints photos on different kinds of surfaces, such as wood or canvas, and reuses material classified as waste. For Carr, making prints means working with his hands, which is important to him and a part of his daily routine. He has noticed that sometimes it is good to approach life through direct action, in a slightly different way than on the level of thought and intellect alone which we in the west have internalised.

Carr speaks with sincere respect about the people he has met who have influenced his life at various stages. It turns out that the artists at the Saari Residence have also influenced each other simply by sharing the common spaces there. Everyone there influences everyone else as themselves, by setting an example and doing things their own way.

Carr shares with gratitude that he has started meditating again, encouraged by a colleague at the residence. At the same time, he mentions that the energy and enthusiasm of his fellow artists alone has had an extremely positive effect on his being and notes that the support the Saari Residence employees have given him has been truly remarkable.

The November darkness and the landscapes of the Saari Residence have also brought about a feeling of isolation from the rest of the world, allowing him to turn inward and engage in self-reflection. The silence here allows you to examine your own behaviour, even if it isn’t always easy. In this peaceful environment, you might realise that your habits and ways of relating to time, work and technology are not as healthy and balanced as you thought.

Edd Carr sitting at the Saari Residence studio.
Photo: Jussi Virkkumaa

Deep ecology

Carr, 31, comes from a small village in rural Yorkshire, and a career as an artist was by no means an obvious choice in that environment. However, through various twists and turns, Carr ended up at university and there came across the concept of radical ecology, which made a big impression on him. “Suddenly, I finally felt able to put into words my childhood experiences and difficult emotions relation to the rural lifestyle and the unfair attitude humans have towards nature.”

Carr remembers being confused as a child by fox hunting, which is seen as a self-evident tradition in his home region. The dichotomous worldview in which humans and nature are conceived as separate from each other and nature is seen as something humans control seemed strange and wrong to him. Carr gradually transformed from a tree-protecting nature lover to a deep ecologist who looks at the bigger picture. He emphasises, however, that he does not believe in the radical ideas prevalent in deep ecology about depopulation as a positive thing, nor does he agree with the narrative that humans are like a virus on Earth and inherently evil.

Carr’s interest in deep ecology started from his misgivings about the dualistic worldview. People living in rural areas are closer to nature, but their way of life emphasises the separation between humans and the rest of the world and the idea that people are meant to control their environment. For Carr, deep ecology means challenging the dualistic worldview in a fundamental way and understanding that we are not separate from the rest of the world.

Photos from Edd Carr's workshop on alternative photography processes at the Saari Residence.

A new method of making photographs

At the same time that Carr discovered deep ecology, he began to feel alienated by nature photography. It was not nature as the subject that frustrated him, but the producing of photographs itself seemed to strengthen the feeling of being separate from nature.

Carr began to wonder whether it would be possible to somehow incorporate elements of nature into the process of making photographs. He began to experiment with various things: he buried film in the ground, set film on fire and physically modified it. As his artistic thesis at the university, Carr created a work of moving images called A Guide to British Trees. The title refers to all the traditions conventionally used to describe nature in British culture. In this work, a man dies and is reborn as a tree. Carr used a variety of creative methods in the animation, including dissolving the film in seawater. He explains that this work provided him with an important experience of success and a turning point that encouraged him to continue experimenting.

Carr’s work is still partly analogue and partly digital. He says that he has accepted the fact that we live in a digital world and that, in a way, you have to be OK with that if you want your works to be distributed. At the same time, he sees opportunities in the future for building larger installation-type pieces that would allow him to include not only digital images and sound, but three-dimensional elements that would allow people to experience them through other senses too.  

Agriculture, violence and restorative animism

At the Saari Residence, Carr is preparing his next documentary project on agriculture, violence and animism. This is an experimental essay documentary produced in collaboration with Film London and it will be Carr’s first feature film.

The work deals with the intergenerational trauma of the Carr family, and the story begins with his grandmother who grew up on a sheep farm with her ten siblings. The family trauma is not discussed directly in the work but is revealed as part of a larger story about the history of Carr’s home region and the changes in the landscape of the area. The ecological trauma of the landscape serves as an analogy to the personal generational trauma.

Carr mentions that the discussions he has had at the residence with the other artists have clarified his thoughts in relation to this work. The transformation of the status of women from an equal to someone performing unpaid labour, which coincided with the privatisation of land and the consolidation of capitalism and patriarchy, is completely comparable to the situation of Carr’s grandmother, the way she was treated and how agriculture affected her childhood. Carr explains that he has gained a deeper understanding of how exploitation of the ecosystem truly affects humans as well.

Carr is interested in animism as an opportunity to heal trauma. Animism can also be used to challenge the ecological and social violence existing in modern methods of production and lifestyles. He uses the word ‘animism’ to refer to the possibility of also conceiving other species as individuals with souls. Carr mentions that this idea is important to him because it brings meaning to everything he does.

Carr does not talk about animism as a religious idea that includes, for example, rituals or offerings. Animism does not exist only at the level of theory and logical thinking, but can manifest, as it does among indigenous peoples, as an emotion, intuition, and social action.