During the summer of 2019, on the island of Skomvær in the outer ridge of the Lofoten archipelago in northern Norway/ Sápmi, I explored how to become attuned to the meta-chemical world of kelp (seaweed) and saltwater, using experimental photographic methods, alchemy, and the ancient art of divination.
During the time on the island, I started to think with and practice through the kelp, asking how I might divine or sense signs from the organic and inorganic worlds that we are a part of, but that also operate beyond rational human knowledge.
The work I am doing with kelp/seaweed is part of my ongoing practice of attuning (sensing) to worlds otherwise. It's a practice that attempts to disclose the shifting rhythms of human and non-human assemblages taking place at a moment of profound environmental change and climate crisis.
The images/ emanations that emerge in Para-photo-mancy are contingent, dependent on the chemical reactions taking place on a molecular level between the phenols in the kelp, the saltwater and the silver halide crystals in the photographic emulsion used.
Each day I followed a routine of collecting seawater and various samples of kelp that had washed up on the rocks of the small island from the depths of the surrounding ocean. I found that the kelp and seaweed could produce its own 'para-photographic' image when brought in direct contact with the photosensitive substrates that I had brought with me. The kelp and seaweed saturated by the salinity of seawater produced an alchemic mix of alkaloids and acids, much in the way traditional photochemical developers work. However, the image conjured is not made by light, as would ordinarily be expected in photography, but by chemical interaction.
The seaweed and kelp forests found in the Lofoten archipelago have already become a significant marker of environmental and climate crisis in the region. Kelp and seaweed, like terrestrial plants, synthesise phenols in response to various environmental effects. In working with these aquatic entities, which carry within their chemical molecules traces of ecological change, a shifting register of ocean salinity, pressure, temperature and pathogens can be divined.
Para-photo-mancy aims to conjure something akin to a genetic fingerprint generated from the location of its germination; however, not one made through purely scientific or photographic means, but through the material, expressive and creative quality of the environment itself. It's an ecological image-making process that attunes to the primal poetics of matter.
Para-photo-mancy is based on a process first developed by artist and filmmaker Karel Doing who makes experimental films and expanded cinema. Details concerning Karel Doing's method, which he calls 'phytogram,' can be found here.