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Work / Publication

A document of weather modification through terrifying but incredible archival photography

Every major event — a wedding, holiday or BBQ — is always attached to the saying: “We can’t control the weather!” It’s a saying that however many times it’s said, and how you know it’s probably always going to be true, you just wish it wasn’t. Imagine! Anyway, it hasn’t stopped scientists trying to control the weather through modification, and the methods and implications of doing so are catalogued photographically in Sarah Piegay Espenon’s first book, Humanise Something Free of Error.

“Taken broadly, weather modification refers to man-made attempts to intervene in natural weather patterns through advancements in science and technology,” Loose Joints, Humanise Something Free of Error’s publisher (where Sarah is a co-founder) makes clear. These experiments have come in many forms over the years, such as “positive gestures to stimulate food production and alleviate water scarcity or to prevent damaging weather such as hail or hurricanes,” for instance. In the 20th century, this evolved into a “process integrated into military and capitalist technologies: to extract profit from the land, and to destabilise economies, ecosystems, agriculture and financial commodity markets,” Loose Joints continues. This is where worrying questions come into play: “The weaponisation of the weather and the prospect of environmental warfare raises questions about the ethics of harnessing natural forces as a form of power.”

In a sense, the weather, ubiquitous in our daily lives despite having such a large part to play in it, becomes quite terrifying, as if higher forces are tampering with it and we don’t even know. To make the idea more comprehensible and digestible through visuals, Sarah has gathered imagery “from sources as diverse as press libraries, online forums, and the artists’ photographic archives,” the publisher explains. “Humanise Something Free of Error is an oblique response to these issues of power, left open-ended though visual associations along the thin line between peaceful and hostile usage of geoengineering. This critical engagement questions man’s ability to responsibly manage powerful and harmful ecological forces.”

Sarah’s collation of powerful imagery is vast, from houses flooded under water with just a roof poking out, experiments inside labs, technical tools or just terrifying – albeit beautifully photographed – wind storms. In her mix of archival imagery the book displays experiments that “are inseparable from the impending climate crises of our age, and paint an urgent picture of the extreme, hidden trajectories to control ecological change,” the publisher explains. “Contained within is also an essential obscurity: the unknowable covert operations taking place in the skies above; the invisibility of the state."

In turn, Sarah’s work which regularly “incorporates archival photography and examines at the impulses of collecting and process data,” asks questions about elements that surround us such as “our living relationship with the planet,” but also “man’s relationship with technology — whether we are in control of the processes we have released upon the world, or whether they are now in control.”

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