Interview: Elena Cremona on Photography and Environmentalism

Photographer Elena Cremona on art and the environment and her latest exhibition, Uncertain States

Elena Cremona’s latest exhibition of landscape photography, Uncertain States, is on show until the 8th of January at the Jam Factory, London. We caught up with her about her work and her vision as an environmentalist artist:

Hey, Elena! Could you give us a little introduction to your photography and to your new show? 

I photograph to pour meaning into who I am.

If I don’t photograph, I feel as though I am fading away. I photograph to understand better, to grow, to connect, to admire and show gratitude to the Earth that birthed me.

Each photograph of mine is as unique as the memory that inspired it.

To me, photography makes conscious and redraws invisibles lines. In doing so, it reminds me that though my life moves forward and leaves behind past memories, it is I who creates new memories through the uncertain states and vulnerabilities of life.

I find it hard to understand life and society, to make sense of all the different aspects that we are born into – a system driven by power, money and exploitation, where greed seems to be put above the wellbeing of our planet.

Society is ignorance but Nature is bliss.

It is important to me to use my photographic work as a tool to awaken consciousness and create a sense of awareness and respect for our irreplaceable landscapes; to not only challenge the mind set of society, but to evoke an emotional and tactile connection between ourselves and Nature. 

‘Uncertain States’ is a reminder of our fragility on Earth, a homage to my Mother (Earth) and hopefully an appreciation to the core elements that make up the planet we inhabit.

What inspired the shift in your work towards environmentalist photography? 

A general feeling of belonging to, and caring for Nature. The more I started to love myself, the more I became aware of the actions I have towards the planet. It took years of questioning myself, and my surroundings to seek answers within nature.

My photographic work is my way of protecting Nature; it’s my way of representing the truth of what is happening to and with the world. If I can instil awareness, an appreciation or even a connection to nature, then I have done my work.
Our problem in this day and age is that most people set themselves apart from Nature, when we are a part of it.

Could you talk about the potential of fine art or photography when it comes to activism?

It has huge potential. The argument of nature’s resource exploitation and excavation, as well as the destruction and environmental devastation of landscapes, has long been one of high concern. However, the environmental effects of this are not always so visible or apparent. The power of images has proven itself many times, through either activism or conservation photography in the type of photojournalism or documentation. Photography influences the viewer’s mind and teaches about the issues presented in the image – it is the idea that it portrays something real and therefor true, and inherently has the ability to connect the mind to the image.
A visual piece of work, may this be in any medium, breaks the barrier of language and can educate anyone, anywhere in the world about the issue presented.

Art is about connecting not only to each other and to yourself, but also with your surrounding and your environment. The potential of achieving what we would like to in the realm of activism depends on how willing people are to let the truth in – if you care and love yourself, then you care and love the Earth that birthed you.

Your nature photography has taken you around the world in search of beautiful landscapes. Do you have a favourite spot to shoot?

I’m not entirely sure I could pick a favourite spot… I’m also not sure it’s the places I, rather it’s the rocks I encounter there. One of my favourite things in the world is rocks, which is how I choose where to go next in hunt for beauty.
Bryce Canyon was incredible, so was Mono Lake in California. Iceland was absolutely sublime. Whenever I go visit a new place, I will like it more than the previous, until I go and adventure again.

Who are three environmentalist artists to look out for?

Zaria Forman is definitely one to look out for. She creates large-scale, meticulously detailed pastel paintings of Icebergs, Glaciers, waves etc. and hopes that her work will foster a deeper understanding of the climate crisis and by giving viewers a more intimate way of connecting with the landscapes.

Another artist I’ve grown a deep affection for is Linda Finch – a surrealist painter who hopes for her work to make viewers want to dive deeper and explore the message within. Her paintings touch on the concepts of environmental and social issues, as well as being able to connect to one self. Her work reminds me of Frida Kahlo – surreal, earthy, and nurturing.

One particular project, Where is my Land? by artist Khvay Samnang has really stood out to me this year: Over the course of a year, he visited and returned to lakes from his childhood in  Cambodia and set up the scenes for his performance piece. Using himself as the subject, he spent time framing his image with his camera and tripod. The artist then proceeded to immerse himself in the polluted waters, find something stable to stand on and pour a bucket of san over his head. He repeated this action at different locations and documented it using film and photography. In creating this rigorous performance, he risked illness from pollution and sewage, arrest for trespassing and even gambled on the chance that his camera might be confiscated. Khvay wanted to highlight the urban development of the lakes that is irrevocably changing the natural environment and the livelihoods of many thousands of poor urban families.

Which reading material would you recommend for artists working in the realm of environmentalism?

When I was at University I researched a lot of material regarding activism, environmentalism, photography as activism etc.. Here’s some of my favourites:

Rachel Carson – Silent Spring
TJ Demos – Decolonizing Nature
Michelle Bogre – Photography as activism: Images for Social Change
W.J.T. Mitchell – Landscape and Power
David Pagel – Damaged romanticism: a mirror of modern emotion
James Lovelock – The Revenge of Gaia

And are there any films / documentaries you would recommend?

Chasing Ice
What the Health
Before the Flood
An Inconvenient Truth (and the sequel)

Do you have any upcoming plans for personal projects or exhibitions?

I’m currently showing my first solo exhibition at The Jam Factory in Oxford which will run until the 8th of January – a show solely dedicated for my love of nature, a homage to Mother Earth.
I’m hoping to start traveling more next year – I’d love to go see Bolivia, Mexico, maybe spend some more time with my family in California – anything to get out of London and this horrendous city life.
Otherwise, we have some exhibitions coming up with and for The Earth Issue in partnership with charities, as well as launching our new issue at the beginning of next year.

How can environmentalist artists get in touch to collaborate in London or to participate in The Earth Issue?

Drop us a line! We welcome any projects, any exhibition proposals, any submissions – if you’d like to chat about environmentalism or how your work can be used as activism, please write us.

If you’d just like to showcase your love for nature, write us also.

Submissions are welcome either through Archive Collective Mag or The Earth Issue itself.

Your skin feels like I just breathed in
the first drop of summer’s rain,
washing away my fear of a fire
– Elena Cremona