How can optimism be a form of cultural rebellion? When I first wrote that in 2004, optimism wasn’t something that was culturally normal at the time. It had a grand history, but that history was something that needed to be bared in mind — that essentially blind optimism, to assume that everything’s going to be okay was as dangerous as sheer pessimism, both of which are extreme states that are essentially irrational. Because the future doesn’t just unfold, it is created by the actions that people undertake. And I was trying to propose the idea that we should be conscious of our actions, and how they create the future. It wasn’t focused on specific ways of being, more the idea that every human being has the potential to create positive ways of being within their lives, and that maybe artists, as people who are hyperconscious, could be a starting point for that.
I feel that it’s time for the values of the countercultural movement that started in the 1960s to be manifested today in a different visual language.
So it’s a case of rebelling against the negativity, the ‘whatever’ attitude and apathy of a lot of pop culture? Yes. I think it is a sense of desperation in the face of powerlessness. But I also think post-modern culture, with its death of God and death of singular truths created a kind of psychic fallout, a sadness that’s permeated the culture of the late 20th century and today. And I feel that artists were mourning the death of God, mourning the death of singular truth, and rather than embracing what is essentially the exciting potential of post-modernism — which is about enlarging possibilities, as I see it. They assumed that if there were no singular truths, then there must be no truth at all. And now, I think that apathy is over. We are still in a difficult place, and that’s got a lot to do with how we are all implicated in a system that corrupts us. So in today’s late-capitalist era, if we want to live sustainable lives, and not engage with things that are morally questionable, it’s very difficult to live a normal life, because every part of normal life is part of a capitalist structure that oppresses people. And so people are quite rightly conscious that their actual acts of altruism, and the acts of love that they want to apply to their lives, other people and the environment — that their actions will never meet the intensity of their intentions. And I think a lot of that apathy comes from people being afraid of being labeled a hypocrite, which doesn’t create the right environment for people to try to be sincere. I think we have to be realistic about the fact that none of us are perfect, and it’s about finding that right balance between accepting that and not giving up.
So when did you decide not to eat meat? I’ve been vegetarian since I was one [years old]. I’ve never eaten fish or meat. For me, it’s kind of normal [Laughs]. I went through a stage of being ‘meat is murder’ when I was 13, but now it’s just normal... I have a lot of respect for people who are prepared to kill the animals that they eat.
How do you interpret conscious consumerism? Conscious consuming for me, is consuming less. It’s important to try to support local businesses; individuals rather than corporations, but essentially consumerism is tied up within what I consider to be the late stages of a failing monetary system. I think it’s just important to make conscious decisions where you can if you have to consume things, but essentially the way that we relate to consumerism needs to change.
Every human being has the potential to create positive ways of being within their lives.
Do you mean along the lines of the Buddhism’s belief of desire being the root cause of suffering? Not necessarily. I feel like there are enough resources on Earth for everybody to have what they need, and it is within the remit of the human imagination to design a system that facilitates that. I feel that the next stage of capitalism will see a basic living wage for everybody on Earth, and then a competitive element for luxury items.
What daily act could people do to make the Earth a better place? The one thing I could do, that I don’t do well enough, is listening, to listen to other people. And not to lie, to be transparent — as if you think about conflict, much of it arises from people thinking the other is irrational as they don’t understand, and that limits people’s capacity for empathy. And empathy is essential for us to be able to help the planet.
The future doesn’t just
unfold, it is created by the
actions people undertake.
How did you approach taking the photographs within this magazine? What did you try to capture of each personality in their portraits? A lot of the time I spoke to them about how we want to communicate the ideas of this project, so I had some interesting discussions with our subjects about whether they want to be smiling, or looking sombre — as the work that they do is often very serious. And it didn’t need to always be super serious, but then if they’re smiling, it may also be undermining the gravity of the situation we’re facing in the environment and within their work.
And what kind of aesthetic decisions did you make? Was it a conscious choice to adopt the language of fashion photography? It was interesting to have so many people from the fashion industry involved in this, as it’s something you usually associate with glamour and style, something that can be divisive, or politically problematic — or that it’s superficial to want to look nice. But I feel that it’s time for the values of the countercultural movement that started in the 1960s to be manifested today in a different visual language. There’s a space for these ideas to be aspirational — but not unachievable, like a lot of advertising — rather than associated with some hippy thing. It’s to aspire to a life that is wholesome.