Skip to main content

Origins of Silver

Alongside its many other uses the element of silver underpins the magic of analogue photography. It is the essential component of traditional image making.

Questions relating to sustainability are gaining credence and interest amongst the photographic community. There has been a great deal of brilliant, applied research into areas such as silver recovery, alternatives to the use of plastics in film and plant-based processes. However, if we wish to continue with analogue photography as we know it then silver and its necessity is the stumbling block in our experimentation. So, if we must use silver then surely we should interrogate its provenance. Where do companies such as Ilford and Kodak source their silver? How was it processed? Who processed it and under what conditions? What were the impacts on the surrounding land?

In relation to these questions Cornwall is a particularly relevant location considering its rich mining heritage and potential future, with companies such as Cornish Metals and Cornish Lithium prospecting for new sources of precious metals and rare earth minerals. Along with rich lodes of copper, Cornish Metals have recently found evidence of galena (lead sulfide) - the ore from which silver is extracted. Whilst there may not be serious economic viability in the extraction of this ore it does, however, provide an opportunity for us to learn more about the coming-into-being of silver and its subsequent use in photography and other industries. We plan to use the element of silver to explore specific issues related to photographic practice and also as a ’lens’ that can be used to focus on our resource usage and related issues in broader terms. It is a possibility to get our hands dirty, to learn about this magical element upon which we rely so heavily and find a means to embed new-found knowledge in a way that will inform methodologies and practices for the future.

Alongside this material exploration the project will also consider cultural implications, such as unpicking and making visible the narrative assumptions that promote the commodification of geological knowledge and experience, in the Global North.

The project aligns with current research collaborations between the University of Exeter, Falmouth University, Kresen Kernow and the Archives and Special Collections, which holds the CSM collections, on Penryn campus. Archival research will contribute to the project by helping us to map and understand the local (Cornwall) and global connectivities of silver.  

To help facilitate this exciting collaboration Oliver Raymond Barker will be in residence in the ESI Creative Exchange studio space from 1st April to 4th May 2022. With Open Studio hours between 12pm-1pm on:

11th April, 12th April, 13th April, 21st April, 22nd April & 25th April.