Siobhan Angus is an interdisciplinary scholar whose work bridges art history, media studies, and the environmental humanities. Specializing in the history of photography, her current research explores the visual culture of resource extraction with a focus on materiality, perceptions of nature, and environmental justice. Her scholarship also engages with temporality and scale in the geological turn, landscape studies, settler colonial studies, toxicity in art, and the visual cultures of capitalism and labor. Analyzing the complex relationship between art, science, and industry, she considers how raw materials are transformed into the material foundations for art and architecture, and how, paradoxically, art helps us make sense of these processes.
Challenging the emphasis on immateriality in discourses on photography, her book, Camera Geologica: An Elemental History of Photography, (Duke University Press 2024) tells a history of photography that is fundamentally material. Addressing the material links between image-making and resource extraction, the book shows how the mine is a precondition of photography, arguing, in turn, that photography begins underground. Centering histories of colonization, labor, and environmental degradation, Camera Geologica exposes the ways in which photography is enmeshed within—and enables—global extractive capitalism. Photography’s position of imbrication and complicity, the book argues, is relational and material. Exploring the materials of photography, then, is crucial as we attempt to make sense of the social, geopolitical, and economic systems that sustain our world. Camera Geologica is structured around six mined minerals: bitumen, silver, platinum, iron, uranium, and rare earth minerals. Placing nineteenth-century photography in dialogue with contemporary photographic critiques of extraction, the book explores work by Carleton Watkins, Timothy O’Sullivan, Anna Atkins, David Goldblatt, Warren Cariou, LaToya Ruby Frazier, and Susanne Kriemann, among others. The book concludes by turning to the digital world to consider the entangled economies of extraction and image-saturation in the present. Reading materiality alongside representation and visual form, Camera Geologica ultimately reveals a complex picture of photography’s implication within extraction—and its potential to resist it.
She is currently working on two new projects that explore toxicity, environmental racism, and land relations in the Americas. The first turns to petrochemical refining and the geographies of environmental racism to trace a chemical history of cotton. The second, a collaborative project with Jennifer Raab (Yale University), focuses on the visual culture of the Salton Sea.
Much of her work centers on the visual culture of the Canadian shield focusing on the aesthetics and politics of land-use. Her award winning dissertation analyzed how photography and landscape painting chronicled, celebrated, and challenged the transformations enacted by extractive capitalism and settler colonialism on the Canadian Shield. She has published on anthropological photography and Indigenous land claims, the aesthetics of surplus in landscape painting and photography, and working-class visual archives. She has also written about energy transition and settler colonialism in the Athabasca Tar Sands and is currently collaborating with Warren Cariou (University of Manitoba) on hope, toxicity, and settler colonialism.
Image Caption: Carleton Watkins, Malakoff Diggins, North Bloomfield, Nevada County, 1871. Albumen print. 39.3 x 54.8 cm (15 1/2 x 21 9/16 in.) National Gallery of Art, Patrons' Permanent Fund. 1995.36.128.