DIY





Beautiful Terror: Pesticides All Around Us?

With a unique and engaging medium, artist Laurie Tumer reveals the ubiquity of pesticides in our environment.

| May 6, 2008

Laurie Tumer, an artist based in Santa Fe, N.M., makes remarkable images that illustrate the pervasiveness of pesticides in our environment, in particular how surprisingly far they travel from their points of origin. Tumer’s shocking pictures — from the collection “Glowing Evidence” — engage viewers in a physical way, requiring them to move with the image in order to perceive the path of the toxin. Internet viewers share a similar experience through arresting animations.

When I first came across one of Laurie Tumer’s photographic animations on the Web — while researching farm workers and pesticide exposure for a Mother Earth News article — I was immediately struck by the beauty of her images: a pair of deep red lips bathed in stars; eerie glowing hands that appear to have been dipped in some mysterious pixie dust. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and once I understood what these magnificent images were, I realized the beauty was something horrible. Even though I’ve read Rachel Carson's Silent Spring — the most famous and classic book about the impact of pesticides — I knew that I had never understood the danger of these ubiquitous poisons quite so acutely.

A conversation with the artist revealed that her interest in pesticide exposure is frighteningly personal and her creations are the product of an innovative and thoughtful process.

Q. How did you become aware of pesticide problems, and what made you want to work to educate others about it?



In 1998, I experienced a pesticide poisoning after my home was sprayed by a company that misleadingly advertised using “organic” pest products (and still does). What they actually used was a synthetic pyrethroid insecticide, a chemical widely used in agriculture and in home applications. My face swelled, I was sweaty, my heart slowed, and I felt something between a severe flu and what I’ve read malaria feels like. It took many months for the acute reactions to lessen and the experience has caused me health problems to this day. This type of poisoning, I learned, is more widespread than I knew.

In ‘98, I thought of myself as environmentally aware — I was eating organic food and obviously wanted organic pest control — but this pesticide experience caused me to deepen my knowledge about pesticides and the industry. While convalescing I reread Silent Spring (available through the Mother Earth News online store), and wondered why there is a greater proliferation of broad-spectrum insecticides, even though this seminal work had already laid out the cautionary tale in the 1960s. As I read more on the subject, I wanted to see pictures. When I found none that satisfied my visual curiosity, I began to explore ways to make my own, to photographically illustrate what was difficult to imagine: the ubiquity of pesticides and other invisible contaminants.

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