Laurie Tumer: An Environmental Artist Among Green Farmers

We first met environmental artist Laurie Tumer while writing an article for Grist; plus we posted about her here. Not long ago, we dropped her a line, asking what's new and she returned with this brilliant update on her experience at the last Ecological Farming Conference. Here is her guest post. Some of her new photography is posted for your viewing pleasure. All of her images are copyrighted, so please do not copy or use them in another forum without Laurie Tumer's permission.

The Ecological Farming Conference, now in its 27th year, is organized for the organic farming industry. I had the honor of being invited to be a presenter at this year's conference, held at the Asilomar Conference Center near Monterey, California. Thomas Wittman, board member of the Ecological Farming Association, had seen an article about my photographic project Glowing Evidence, and asked me to show and speak about my still and holographic-like photographs that chart the invisible movement and settling of ubiquitous pesticides — those used on conventional farms and those that have found their way unwittingly into our homes and our bodies.

As the only artist among more than 150 speakers, I had a heightened sense of art's history and ability to assist in our very survival: by dazzling, revealing, alerting, and enlightening.

The conference was attended by over 2,000 people who came to hear noted scientists, environmentalists, organic farmers and promoters speak on a range of subjects from biofuel, the US Farm Bill, efforts to reduce children's exposures to pesticides, immigration issues, and regulations regarding the term "organic." It became clear from those I met during meals and on the meandering forest paths at Asilomar that all were experts - there to exchange new information and grasp how their effort fit the larger picture. There was optimism in the air tempered by soberness in the face of the overwhelming challenges and work that lies ahead for those who understand organic sustainable agriculture as our best hope for a healthier planet and its inhabitants.

My education about pesticides and their health and environmental consequences began in 1998 when I experienced a pesticide poisoning at home after a company that advertised "organic pest control" sprayed synthetic pesticides instead. I had thought of myself as environmentally aware, but this crisis (which continues to impact my health) motivated me to deepen my understanding. When I learned more about pesticides, I needed visualizations where none exist so I could picture what was difficult to imagine. As an art photographer, I began to explore ways to make visible the invisible.

I found inspiration in the research of the environmental scientist Richard Fenske, who developed a safety-training demonstration using fluorescent dyes and UV light to show farmworkers who work with pesticides, pictures of their exposures despite protective gear. The theatrical demonstration and images surprise, amuse, and correct misconceptions. These reasonable approximations of reality motivate workers to adhere to painstaking cleaning procedures when they return home. With support from Dr. Fenske's colleagues, I learned this technique.

My visual curiosity led to illustrating information I learn that is generally under the radar, e.g., how the same pesticides used in agriculture are used for residential and commercial pest control, how they drift into our homes, reside in the blood and fat cells of our bodies, persist in conventionally grown food and fabrics, and occur in fetuses' amniotic fluid.

Moderating my session was Monica Moore, director of PANNA (Pesticide Action Network North America) with co-presenter Dr. Charles Benbrook, The Organic Center's chief scientist, summarizing new findings related to children's dietary exposures to pesticides.

For more information about next year's conference visit http://eco-farm.org. Tapes and CDs from previous years' sessions are available. ::Laurie Tumer's website

Tags: Pesticides | Photography

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