New Materialism and sustainable photographic practice: Liz Miller

Notes from a webinar by the London Alternative Photography Collective on 10th September 2020 at which four photographers presented their work.

It was after I had seen the dance and sculpture/mobile collaboration work to be critiqued for our Bridge session that I made a lot of connections and explored some reading material. I also revisited one of my blogs on our January Happening in which I touched on quantum physics and how it relates to our everyday realities. The reading guided me to a concept that was new to me: New Materialisms, and coincided with the advertising of the webinar arranged by the London Alternative Photography Collective.

The first speaker was Liz Miller, an artist who uses cyanotype prints of the spectrograms made by her hydrophones. She breaks these down into their separate frequencies, manipulates them to lookalike the raindrop actants in this piece, prints cyanotypes of them and hangs them from the branches of the trees in the forests creating a link between the ground, the tree and the human process that produced them.

The different frequencies which constitute the recording of the rain falling on the ground around the trees, rendered in visual form by Miller.

She wants to show how audio and visuals can enhance a re-engagement with trees and forests. Sound visualisation reveals the sonic depths of forests giving alternative perspectives of trees.

The cyanotype print taken from the analysed spectrogram of the sound recordings.

Miller uses recordings of a rain storm in the forest made by hydrophones planted underground. The recording reveals the depths of the soundscapes made by the sound of the storm vibrating as the rain falls on the solid earth. The audio spectrogram gives the perspectives of non-human positions – possibly of worms or roots, or the perspectives of the multiple agents that can affect an experience. In Jane Bennett terms, these are the multiple actants (of the rain & the earth) in an ecosystem.

To Miller, the forest and all its component parts – its multiple forces, affect life, both human and non-human.

Miller argues that sounds should be considered as active agencies in vibrant matter. In her work in Blackheath Forest east of Guildford, Miller curated an exhibition of her physical and sound work to underline the fundamental relationship between man and nature.

The complexity of the different actants in preserving ecosystems

My question is: If we are looking at New Materialisms to rebalance the relationships between man and nature, why are we putting these larger than life cyanotypes strung to a tree in rigid lines thereby imposing man’s presence & efforts at taming trees? In her UCA installation images, there was a beautiful, huge Maple tree in the courtyard festooned and tied down with these cyanotype banners.

The sounds and the visuals became disconnected and the 2 events became quite separate experiences. In March 2020, the tree had been cut down because it interfered with the underground pipes.

The cyanotypes viewed in a gallery context.

My question to Miller was about the reactions of the people to the banners tied to the tree. Miller thought I was making if the tree had suffered which was not my point at all. She said that the banners and the ropes were very light and did not damage the tree at all.


I was immediately drawn to this talk because of its work with natural elements and cyanotypes. I loved the idea of recording sound in nature & am thinking of using the idea in my seaweed cyanotype project.

I like the idea of adapting the spectrogram to reflect the connection with the rain. In my context, I would deliver that with using silk on which to print the cyanotypes to echo the motion of the waves/sea.

A text extract that I would like to spend more time reading.
Another text to contemplate.


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