Interview with Edd Carr at the Sustainable Darkroom

Edd Carr, director of the Sustainable Darkroom, explores sustainable photography through alternative processes showcased in a documentary. With a focus on ecological practices, the project educates and inspires, aiming to redefine the environmental impact of traditional photography.

Photography / Edd Carr

Edd Carr is the director of the Sustainable Darkroom and recently released a documentary on sustainable photography.

The documentary was made using a variety of alternative processes including Super 8 developed in food waste, cyanotype animation on a variety of objects (paper, coffee cups, and more), anthotypes, chemigrams, as well as a whole host of other processes.

The Sustainable Darkroom is an artist-run research, training and mutual learning programme, to equip cultural practitioners with new skills and knowledge to develop an environmentally friendly photographic darkroom practice.

Still from Edd Carrs documentary I am a darkroom with the Sustainable Darkroom initiative Still from Edd Carrs documentary I am a darkroom with the Sustainable Darkroom initiative      

How is life as a director of the Sustainable Darkroom?

Edd Carr: Life in the Sustainable Darkroom is good! At the moment, we don’t have a physical space, as the one we had in Leeds which also housed our Photographic Garden project ended. So right now, the Sustainable Darkroom is run remotely by our founder Hannah Fletcher, co-director Alice Cazenave, and I, Edd Carr.
Our day-to-day varies, but mostly we are doing stuff like organising workshops in different skills, supporting our online community with direct advice on ecological processes, and arranging for future publications, talks, and events. We are also all practising artists using these kinds of processes, so we are often making and exhibiting work.

In terms of ups – it’s great working in a team with such talented artists, and also to have a huge community of folks worldwide working with ecological transformations in photography.

We’ve had people from nearly every continent engage with the Sustainable Darkroom, and it’s always exciting to hear how our research has positively impacted someone’s practice, or to advise on best darkroom practices for a space halfway around the Planet!
In so far as downs – not many! Maybe the usual that beset arts organisations around the world, like getting funding or finding an affordable space to exist!

Which processes do you see as sustainable?

Edd Carr:I think sustainable is a pretty loaded word in today’s climate, in the sense that it has been coopted by big business for selling products, and is also used as a purity test to undermine others when they advocate for environmental action. As Andrés Pardo (aka Curiosolab Instagram: @curiosolab) says in the film, he prefers terminology such as low-impact, biodegradable etc. for these processes, partly because photography is so inherently tied to resource exploitation and unsustainable materials that produce tonnes of waste and planetary wasting.

In a way, the term Sustainable Darkroom is kind of an oxymoron, as the very nature of photography is toxic. For example, you can develop your film in biodegradable plant-based developers and fix them in salt water, but you still have to buy the film which is made from plastics, fossil fuels, silver, and so on.

But for me, that’s what makes it interesting, in that we are starting with something so tied to systems of consumption, that unravelling it and trying to make things more ecological is like diving into the deep end on your first swimming lesson.

Of course, we have hypothetical plans for a fully regenerative darkroom system, with all aspects internalised and waste to a minimum – but this is a long way off. If our progression were a reel of film, we’d probably be at the first few frames. But we’ve made meaningful strides into instructing folks on alternatives to toxic, high-waste commercial chemicals, on totally biodegradable processes such as anthotypes and chlorophyll types, and educating on the complex past, present, and future of photographic materials.

I myself use cyanotype a lot, which is widely known as a low-toxicity process safe for children and the like. But then I have to ask myself, how did the chemicals get made that I bought in the shop, what impact was involved in that, and where will all my prints one day end up? This network-focused attitude I think is core to the Sustainable Darkroom, and is possibly what I’d say is the most sustainable process one can adopt in their photo practice.

Still from Edd Carrs documentary I am a darkroom with the Sustainable Darkroom initiativeStill from Edd Carrs documentary I am a darkroom with the Sustainable Darkroom initiative

Do you have a favourite “sustainable recipe”?

Edd Carr: So many to choose from! But lately, I’ve been excited by developers made completely from natural materials. Typically, plant developer recipes will note the addition of an artificial alkaline (in the form of washing soda) and powdered vitamin C, to increase the pH and the power of the developer respectively. However, based on Curiosolab’s ‘Muddy’ recipe, I have recently been experimenting with using just boiled and mashed rosehips combined with wood ash, which meets the chemical needs of a (very slow) developer without any addition of artificial components. It’s fascinating to think that with something, so man-made as photographic emulsion, you can develop using solely foraged ingredients.

What is the weirdest thing you have done (or have seen someone do) and emulsion from?

Edd Carr:One artist comes to mind immediately with this question! Although she isn’t working with emulsions in this case but developer – Michaela Davidova – Instagram @aytacrayta. Michaela was an artist-in-residence of our Photographic Garden residency, and was researching cleaning darkroom waste water with wetland plants. This led her to thinking of the darkroom as a kind of body, with waste going in and out – and ultimately to her developing film in her own urine! Because of the food we eat, our urine is loaded with the kind of acids and stuff that can develop film. Michaela then went on to ferment the urine, to increase the pH, meaning she only had to add a bit of vitamin C and could develop film with just that. Awesome research from a wonderful artist – and truly embracing the zero waste approach!

Still from Edd Carrs documentary I am a darkroom with the Sustainable Darkroom initiativeStill from Edd Carrs documentary I am a darkroom with the Sustainable Darkroom initiative

How do you become a student and what is the main reason to study at the Sustainable Darkroom?

Edd Carr: The Sustainable Darkroom isn’t so much a school where you can become a student, but more of a community which our members regularly contribute to and develop their own research based off the information and support we provide. We do a lot of in-person and online teaching, to university students and independent photographers etc., but we haven’t set up anything formal like a school.
Our Slow Photography series is the most recent education programme we offer – which focuses on a blend of theory and ecological photography practice. The most recent iteration was on fungi in photography with Anna Lukala Instagram: @anna.lukala, and we have one coming up with Eileen White on learning plant-based developing. But perhaps one day we’ll have a school – who knows!
In terms of why to learn with the Sustainable Darkroom – based on feedback from other members, I’d say it can breathe new life into your practice, or totally re-engage you with analogue photography if you’ve abandoned it for environmental reasons (which many tell us they had). In addition, it can give you a new perspective on the world, and a deeper appreciation of the ecosystems you live within. And most of all, it’s fun! I’d hope the film conveys this, so please go watch!

Still from Edd Carrs documentary I am a darkroom with the Sustainable Darkroom initiativeStill from Edd Carrs documentary I am a darkroom with the Sustainable Darkroom initiative


If you have not seen it yet, the documentary is free to view online on the website. Just enter your email.

See more about Edd Carr on his website:
More about the Sustainable Darkroom on their Instagram account @sustainabledarkroom

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