Turning the Camera on What Powers Photography

The Photo Blog
Feb. 24 2014 11:07 AM

Turning the Camera on What Powers Photography

Power (Hydro-Electricity), 2009. Tumut No. 3 Snowy-Hydro Power Station, Talbingo, New South Wales, Australia.

Jennifer Norman

Most photographers look far and wide for the interesting subjects to capture, but in Jennifer Norman’s series “Ecologies of Photography,” she decided to turn the camera on the photo process itself. “After spending more time being self-reflexive, I had to acknowledge the medium I’m using in itself is also contributing to pollution in the environment,” she said.

While pursuing a Ph.D. in photography at the University of Sydney, Norman spent four years photographing some of the heavy industries that directly and indirectly make photography possible, including oil refineries, pulp and paper mills, and chemical plants. “It was a way of making myself a personal experiment and trying to not ignore all the factors of production that I rely on every day to have the luxuries I have,” she said.

Concrete, 2009. Cemex, Bungendore, New South Wales, Australia.

Jennifer Norman

Coal Mining, 2010. Cumnock Coal Ltd., Rio Tinto, Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia.

Jennifer Norman

Pulp & Paper Mill, 2009. Visy Pulp & Paper, Tumut Kraft Mill, Tumut, New South Wales, Australia.

Jennifer Norman

Photographers, it turns out, rely on more industries than Norman had time to shoot, including asphalt for roads to get to their subjects, chemicals for photo development, and power to operate their computers and other equipment. After researching various facilities, Norman traveled as much as 17 hours by car to make her photographs. She resolved to photograph alone and at night in order to recreate the fear that we push aside in our everyday lives in order to enjoy the fruits of environmental destruction. “I would feel very scared when I was photographing. One time I was nearly arrested. I was photographing an oil refinery, and they really didn't want me to be where I was. I suppose there were a few occasions where I maybe went to places where I wasn't allowed to go. Other times I’d have security come up to me and start chatting. I'd try to keep the conversation going so I could finish the exposure,” she said.


Shooting with a large-format camera, Norman made long exposures between four and 45 minutes long. The result is photos with strange and distorted colors, creating a sense of awe and terror around the often immense sites. By making these places both beautiful and scary to the viewer, Norman asks us to consider their role in the creation of beauty and, at the same time, their threat to its future.

Sugar Refinery (Cellulose), 2009. Haughton Sugar Company Pty Ltd. CSR Invicta Mill, Giru, Queensland, Ausralia.

Jennifer Norman

Chemical Plant (Ethylene Glycol), 2009. Hunstman Corporation, Matraville, New South Wales.

Jennifer Norman

Chemical Plant (Polyethylene), 2010. Lyondellbasell Plant, Roseberry, New South Wales, Australia.

Jennifer Norman

Simply increasing concerned consumers’ awareness of the environmental cost of our daily lives isn’t enough. But Norman said that no progress can be made until we appreciate the extent to which industry is damaging to the planet and simultaneously essential to nearly every aspect of human life. “I can't fix the situation on my own, but perhaps what I can do through photography is demonstrate that this is a very complicated thing,” she said. “Having a safe place to talk about it, which acknowledges the good and the bad, might be a good place to start.”

A selection of Norman’s photographs are on display as part of the Exposure Photography Festival in Calgary, Canada, through March 8.

Waste Treatment & Sewage, 2009. Overtop a sewer pipeline, Port Kembla, New South Wales, Australia.

Jennifer Norman

Steel Works, 2009. Port Kembla Steel Works, Industry World, Port Kembla, New South Wales, Australia.

Jennifer Norman

Power (Coal), 2010. Bayswater Power Plant, near Muswellbrook, New South Wales, Australia.

Jennifer Norman

Power (Wind), 2009. Crookwell Wind Farm, Crookwell, New South Wales, Australia.

Jennifer Norman


Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.


Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM Planned Parenthood Is About to Make It a Lot Easier to Get Birth Control
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 5:03 PM White House Chief Information Officer Will Run U.S. Ebola Response
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.