Edd Carr reframing root metaphors
The Vegan Utopia: Can you tell us about what projects you’ve been working on lately?
Edd Carr: I’ve been working on a film about the reintroduction of wolves into Colorado, because when Trump was president he repealed the endangered species protection over wolves, so the wolves are being slaughtered en masse. So me and Gabriel Rollinos, from São Paulo, are working together on a film on the return of wolves in Colorado, trying to challenge that, changing the legislation a bit, although I’m not sure how much a cyanotype movie will change the law in North America. Despite some liberal places in the state, like Boulder and Denver, Colorado is mainly farming and cowboy communities , so activists are worried that after reintroducing wolves there they will just get shot. ince Trump repealed the protection over them, they are being driven to extinction in North America, which is just crazy when you think about it.
TVU: How did you get started in Photography? What do you consider yourself first: an artist a photographer or a cinematographer? Is there a clear difference between them?
EC: Me and the rest of the Sustainable Darkroom get asked this question quite a bit because we are working with a lot of processes that don’t use cameras. Our founder Hannah Fletcher describes herself as an artist that uses photographic processes. I started doing photography with dogs during my early twenties, as part of my job – I was taking pictures of the dogs and posting them on social media. Then I ended up doing landscape photography in my spare time, I would go take these classic sunset or snowy landscape photos, very cliché… I then realized I enjoyed photography more than dog walking, although, of course, I’ve always had a strong relationship with animals, especially dogs, since I was kind of raised by dogs as a kid. So I decided to study wildlife photography that only takes place in Falmouth University, the course of Marine and Natural History Photography, in Cornwall, a place with its own climate, where there are even palm trees! But when I was doing digital photography of landscapes, I felt less and less aware of the environment and of my entanglement with the non-human world.
I’d be standing on the side of a cliff, getting hit by the wind, the waves, the grass, and all that stuff, but focused entirely on the digital representation of it on a screen. So I really fell out of love with that method of image production and all other stuff around it, and I started working with analogue processes as a way to physically engage with things.
TVU: So you felt like there was a disconnection between the experience and the representation of that experience in digital?
EC: Exactly, I wrote my undergraduate thesis on nature documentaries like Planet Earth and David Attenborough’s classic style of nature documentary. I find them a very clean, technological, industrial version of nature, – nicely packaged in slow-motion footage. I felt like that was a complete misrepresentation of all nature. Our day-to-day relationship with nature is not just this thing that happens on a screen in the Arctic or in the rainforest, but it’s something that’s happening all around us. So I guess with analogue processes and natural materials – like what I did with my soil film [Yorkshire dirt] – or others where I use wood, leaves and so on, I felt much more engaged with the non-human world. I wasn’t flying over to the rainforest and taking high-speed photos of frogs or whatever, I was literally staying within a few miles radius of where I lived and working with the forests, the sea and the plants in a physical way. So I guess I’m not really a photographer primarily, but an artist that uses photographic processes like cyanotype prints, where I do most of my image-making.
TVU: How did you arrive at this unique style of doing film?
EC: I made a film called A Guide to British Trees that talks about creation myths and how they influence the way that we perceive the world – how we build our philosophical systems. They come from root metaphors, which are subconscious beliefs that we have when framing the way we see the world. So we’re not aware of them, but they frame the way we see and feel about certain issues.
For example, most people in society have this root metaphor that we have dominion over animals, or we have the right to treat animals the way we want for human gain or for human pleasure, but that didn’t come out of nowhere, it actually comes from this belief system of years and years of religion and philosophical traditions. With that film I wanted to challenge that by making my own creation myth that was ecocentric and that didn’t center the human. It was also the first time I animated with cyanotype. Ever since then, I wanted to create a longer cyanotype video, but I didn’t have the time or the money because it obviously took a lot of work, until I was approached by Tycho Jones and I took the chance to animate a full music video using that technique.
stills from “A Guide to British Trees” ©Edd Carr
TVU: In your work, the sound is nearly 50% of the content since there are no words, there are no clear narratives, but mainly sensations and concepts, so I see sound as a major part of it. Was it something you did on your own or did you collaborate with other sound artists from the start?
EC: My favorite artistic medium is music videos. Most of the media that I engage with is music, pretty much from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep. Music videos are the perfect paring of my visual ability with my sound skills, which by the way I have none, so music videos are the perfect bridge between something I’m good at and something that I love. I guess that’s why most of my films don’t have dialogue, instead, they have timed scores or music and sound that are a huge part of it… I’ve only done the sound myself twice, like in “Here Comes the Wildfire! ”. Most recently, for Yorkshire Dirt, I knew that the sound had to be very specific, for example when the foxes are torn apart at the end I needed someone that could emphasize the whole experience and the full horror of such an event, so that’s how I came to work with Lucy Johnson.
TVU: Talking about the editing process, sometimes when we’re working in creating or spreading content on the harsh part of the animals’ realities we have to watch things we don’t want to, like the movie Earthlings, for example, which I keep recommending people to watch, although I have to admit I haven’t watched it all myself, maybe one day I’ll have too…
EC: I have seen Earthlings , and it is hard to watch. I’ve even watched that Okja film where they genetically modify a giant pig, and I was crying at the end, even though it was CGI. Putting the actual artwork together is not the hard part. The hardest is the research part. I’ve been working with anthotypes, a photographic process where you just use plant material. For example, you grind up spinach , make it into a liquid, then coat it on paper and print it in the sun using a digital positive. Some prints will take up to 4 hours, and that’s at the height of Summer. So I’ve been doing this ongoing project, animating animal testing footage using the anthotype process. I remember watching a lot of source videos while listening to ambient music with my headphones, and it was such a harrowing experience. But when it comes to the soil film, and the fox footage, I think by the end of reprinting it on soil and doing the edit over and over again, I think I became desensitized. That said, when I watched the version with Lucy’s sound for the first time, it was very upsetting.
I showed it to one of my studio mates, because I share the studio with six other people, and she couldn’t watch it. It’s not like we’re a vegan collective, but it just so happens that we are all vegan in the studio.
TVU: In some areas where I go rock climbing [in Spain] there are bores living in the woods and many people hunt them because they consider them a plague…. Sometimes you’d hear the gunshots and cheer for the bore, but it’s unlikely he makes it.
EC: When I had my own dog walking business, because I was in a rural area I was always taking them up the hill where I was from, and during shooting season there would be gun shots going off, which would scare some some of the dogs. It was always in the background, and there were certain areas you knew you couldn’t go because there were so many guns going off at the same time.
If you’re a farmer you can shoot foxes all year round, but the shooting season is especially for game birds. So the area where I’m from, the North York Moors, is completely managed to allow the spread of particular plant species, which involves the killing of wildlife, as you can see with the footage of all those buzzards that had been killed in a row. There’s a scene where a gamekeeper, the person who manages the land, beheading a buzzard with a machete (the buzzard is a natural predator of other birds), which is illegal, to then help these other birds (the buzzard’s prey) spread – so they can shoot them in the millions. Because the hunters don’t need them for food, as there are so many, they put them in something called a stink pit, where they’re left to rot. They put snare traps around it so that when other wild animals like foxes are attracted to it, they’re caught in the snares. So there are incredible layers of violence, which is what this film is about.
TVU: When did you go vegan and how did that alter your professional life?
EC: I’ve been vegan 6 years now, before that I was vegetarian and one day a vegan friend said there was no such thing as vegetarian, as you know the production of dairy requires the killing of cows, baby chicks for eggs, and so on… but when I went vegan it never affected me negatively in a professional sense. I did a Master’s degree in London and I wrote my thesis on gelatine and photographic film. From there I got involved in the Sustainable Darkroom project and the use of more sustainable processes. The only time I ever experience a negative attitude is when I’m back home in the countryside with my family or people I have known since I was a kid, and they will say “why the hell aren’t you eating meat?” Occasionally people online leave hate comments on clips of Yorkshire Dirt, and also on articles I’ve written on sustainable photography commenting “you ethical vegans are ruining everything, and now you’re ruining analog photography”. Apart from that it also impacted my use of film (because there’s cow-derived gelatine in it). So when I wrote my thesis I stopped shooting on film completely, and even today I have massively reduced my use of film even though we’re talking about 24,000 rolls of 35mm per cow skeleton. You likely won’t ever shoot an entire cow skeleton in your lifetime, but still…
TVU: But do you feel like the transition to veganism altered your professional goals then?
EC: All my work is about the ecological crisis and the environmental crisis. I suppose Yorkshire Dirt is the most animal-focused work, but I wouldn’t say that I work with the specific intention of promoting veganism. The art world has a difficult relationship with work that is activist, and I find that work that is explicitly active drives people away. I’m glad my work does promote veganism, but it’s not something I do intentionally. There comes a point which is similar in romantic relationships and friendships where, well, I don’t want to cross this super militant line, but I suppose being vegan is a
certain ethical perspective where you see nonhumans as having thoughts, feelings, and independent experiences from us. Often when talking to other people I’m like “How can you not have that perspective?”. My relationship with dogs was a huge influence on me to develop my relationship with other nonhuman animals,, and I believe the rights that we enjoy that should come for them as well.
TVU: You address veganism without talking about it directly. I guess that allows you to reach a broader audience?
EC: If you go to an art show or film screening, people don’t want to be told what to think, they want to have space to interpret and experience things. With the soil film for example, because of the way it looks aesthetically, it abstracts it to a degree that leaves a bit to the imagination. You don’t really know if I’m trying to challenge, or just explore or investigate these things, so I guess it’s kind of navigating that line between the abstraction of the message and getting the message across. A lot of self-proclaimed ecological or environmental artwork purely aestheticizes scientific research. For example, I went to this exhibition where this guy had extracted ice from the Arctic and was melting it at a very slow rate in a controlled temperature environment, and that’s it. Cool, it’s a piece of ice from thousands of miles away melting in a room in London, but it doesn’t affect me emotionally because that situation is so removed from what it is like to be human in your daily life. The way we digest information on climate change in general, it has a dedicated page in the newspaper, and has all these complex statistics and information – but it’s impossible for a guy working as a Deliveroo driver six days a week to relate to that because that’s just happening over there, and he has no relation to it as it doesn’t directly affect him.
I’m currently working on a film about butterflies and their relationship to extinction. I can’t just go “We should stop using pesticides now!” but instead I’m more interested in how the experience of insect extinction overlaps with our own human experiences of trauma. My grandma had a degree in entomology (insects), and when we were kids she was obsessed with butterflies. We were often exposed to them, but now that I’m older there are fewer butterflies due to reasons like climate change, loss of habitat, pesticides, etc. and that’s quite a personal experience.
So instead of just hammering a specific message, whether it is “don’t eat meat or don’t kill insects”, I’m trying to interweave them with personal narratives, so it becomes more relatable to people. So when you see the interplay between domestic violence and extinction, hopefully people can relate to that experience.
So my approach to making an ecological art is to challenge that and to include those personal narratives of personal trauma. Instead of trying to aestheticize statistics and scientific realities, I’m trying to make something about the emotion and the experience of crisis. Because at the end of the day we are emotional animals, not inherently rational, and that’s what people relate to.
TVU: How and why did you use soil on Yorkshire Dirt film?
EC: I was probably the first person to print on dirt and definitely to animate on dirt. There is somebody that I know who mixes soil with silver gelatine as you can buy liquid emulsion and paint it on surfaces. People ask me if that’s what I did so, of course, firstly there’s beef gelatine in it, and secondly, it requires these different development stages and different chemicals and all of this process is a toxic nightmare, so instead I collected the soil and painted it on to a surface, paper usually, and I dried it in a specific way that helps to detain all the natural cracks, and then I just push it into an inkjet printer. The soil is from a mound that is close to this place where I grew up in the countryside, next to a chicken farm, and it’s less than a mile away of an old iron stone mine, hence why the soil is so red. With this film I was very interested in rural identity and this idea of, especially in the context of veganism, this idealised version of the countryside, this pastoral utopia where farmers happily chew grass while their cows bound around in the fields having such a great time. But as someone form the countryside I knew that was a lie and I didn’t identify with it while most people do. So I wanted to use the material from that area. I looked at the earth, the very soil and foundations of this landscape which is completely ruined.
The countryside looks the way it does because of this perpetual cycle of violence that is hidden behind a mask of “Oh, we’re just these happy farmers on our tractors“ but in reality they’re forcibly impregnating cows, castrating carves, and all these other things I’m not going to start listing….
TVU: So basically you’re trying somehow to modify or affect the essential beliefs we have as a society, and to tap into that you go to very visceral, local material that can relate to this raw state of society, something like that?
EC: Yes, for example, fox hunting is the pinnacle of violence because it’s so on display, it’s so deliberately and obviously violent to no real benefit. Growing up in that area I never identified with it – even when I was a kid I used to ask my parents and grandparents “why would people do this?” But it’s weird because most people in the area kind of agree with it and see it as part of their rural identity, the countryside identity that people from the city don’t understand. But despite being raised there, I did not identifying with the local culture. It’s a weird distance to grow up there, and know the topography history of the landscape so well, but still being isolated from the local culture. I had arguments with gamekeepers who would say “Oh you just don’t understand the rural culture because you’re this educated city person” and I would say “No, I grew up in this environment, but I don’t identify with this culture”. I think about the soil, this kind of idea that we are born from the dirt, and that culture exists in the dirt, but as a consequence, to my eyes, it is completely ruined, and I wanted to expose that.
An additional thing, if we look at a wider picture of the climate change and the ecological crises, as you see I start the film with the worms and microbes, soil exhaustion is one of the major climate issues that we’re going to face in the next fifty years. We won’t be able to grow food, and that is a direct consequence of the violent practices of animal agriculture and monoculture farming.
I see foxing and shooting as these rituals that keep our minds subjected to this idea. They reinforce a culture of it being acceptable to destroy a fox which is a symbol of wildlife and a symbol of freedom, of rebellion even.In turn, it becomes acceptable to practice animal agriculture, plant monocultures and all of these other destructive practices . So fox hunting is this pinnacle act to me because it is a purely symbolic thing that just reinforces those hierarchies that I’m talking about. Does that make sense?
TVU: Absolutely. The soil is the base-ground for pretty much everything and fox hunting helps to normalize all these practices of the current society, filled with animal exploitation. So I guess you’re saying everywhere they have their own ways of subjugating and practicing violence towards animals, like here in Spain there are still the bullfights [Toradas] in some provinces.
EC: Exactly, that’s why the footage starts with an owl hunting the field mouse, like an initial natural act of violence, something inherently natural, and then we go into monoculture farming, which is a big thing where I am from, specifically barley, wheat, and rapeseed… and you’re lured into this false sense of security that we see in adverts, beautiful landscapes of dairy farming, bread making and so on. But we are then led through these layers of of violence which on a microscale, is causing the extinction of the whole planet.
TVU: Do you have any hope?
EC: I think I fluctuate between despair and hope… I always feel like I’m not doing enough, asit’s impossible to quantify how much one is doing, especially when it comes to an experimental documentary rather than a movie on Netflix. It’s hard because, on the one hand, you see more activism and ecological awareness growing, but on the other hand, from the scientific perspective, we are on a continued course of extinction, living in the Sixth Mass Extinction . But there’s a good quote from a talk by the CTO of Serpentine Gallery,that “times of crisis are the best to experiment and reimagine our societal frameworks”.
So in the context of art, in the Sustainable Darkroom, we’ve seen so much potential for transformation and people wanting to engage with us and be involved with us and practice the kind of ecological alternatives that we’re researching more and more as the cultural crisis grows during the covid crisis as well. So, on the one hand, it’s terrifying, but on the other, there is fertile ground for change and for new systems to arise. I’m not an accelerationist who believe “things should be made terrible so that we are forced into socialist revolution”, although I do support socialism , but I think there is hope.
TVU: Would you have anything to say to people who consider veganism in their lives?
EC: Engage with it, try out and experiment with it. Giving it a go is also understanding that it is a complex issue and difficult to start, but once you go vegan you figure it’s a lot easier than people make out. I don’t even think about it. When I first would go to the supermarket I would read ingredients and think I can’t have this, whereaas now it’s just fast, this is what I need… I would just say give it a go, because you might find you like it – and of course, it’s the right thing to do!
TVU: Thank you a lot for your time and your insights!
Edd Carr is an experimental artist from North Yorkshire, UK, working primarily with moving image and alternative processes to explore our anxieties around the ecological crisis and the mass extinction of life. He manipulates his own experiences to understand wider societal trauma surrounding the climate crisis – particularly within his own generation.
Edd’s moving image work has been exhibited worldwide, including Holland, Australia, Germany, and the UK. He has won multiple awards for his sustainable animation techniques, including most recently the Channel 4 Random Acts Award. He also hand-printed the first cyanotype music video for Tycho Jones, which has been nominated for the UK Music Video Awards, alongside videos from artists including Liam Gallagher, Disclosure, Dua Lipa, and Little Mix.
Edd has also had his undergraduate and postgraduate theses published by their respective universities, and has given public talks on each subject – both concerning sustainability in art. Having recently completed an MA at the Royal College of Art, he currently receives funding from East Street Arts to continue his work on sustainable photography.
Edd was interviewed by Vitor Schietti for The Vegan Utopia in February of 2022. The film “Yorkshire Dirt” is yet unpublished so as to be able to participate in film festivals. We’ll update this interview with the film once it’s online. Meanwhile, you can follow Edd Carr on Instagram and recommend this article to your friends and family 😉