In this edition of PALA Meets, we’ve had the opportunity to catch up with Brighton-based photographer Katherine Heath. On her online journal, Katherine writes about living simply and ethically, and the importance of reconnecting with nature. Her latest project is More This, Less That, an online sourcebook of ethical and sustainable brands, eateries and initiatives across London and further afield.
Katherine, it’s lovely to meet you. Now, you describe yourself as a storyteller, so what can you tell us about what you choose to photograph and why?
Hi, it’s great to meet you too. I wouldn’t say I set out with a shot or idea in mind, I prefer to capture the world around me as I go. That’s probably why so much of my photography takes place outdoors, it’s just where I like to spend my time and where I feel the urge to capture my surroundings most. I do prefer my photographs to have meaning or a story behind them which I find often comes from what I was thinking/feeling at the time not necessarily what’s in the shot itself.
You’ve been on a personal journey over the last few years to live a more ethical and sustainable life. What have been the high and low points for you?
That’s a good question and one I haven’t actually asked myself before. I guess the highest point would be the realisation of how little I need to enjoy life, it’s liberating to not have to worry about the latest fashion trends or when the next sale might be on. Another high point has to be reconnecting to the people designing, making and selling the things I do buy. From farmers market vendors to small, online stores that have the wellbeing of their makers at the heart of what they do, you really see what a difference your purchase can make to someone’s life and/or business and that’s a fulfilling feeling.
The lows are less prominent–I have really found living ethically to be a much better way of life personally–but they do rear up occasionally. The lowest point is probably the realisation that the majority of the world just doesn’t care. It baffles me that anyone can watch Blue Planet and still buy plastic water bottles, and that anyone can hear about the Rana Plaza incident and still think buying a £5 t-shirt isn’t causing harm to someone somewhere. We’ve got a long way to go when it comes to shifting mind sets but things are definitely headed in the right direction.
In the blog, you acknowledge that ethical living is not always easy. What advice can you offer someone following in your footsteps in search of a more sustainable life?
The first thing I would say is it’s not about finding sustainable versions of everything you already have. It’s about a change in mind set and a new way of living your life. If you’re used to washing your hair with regular, chemical-filled shampoo and conditioner then yes, you will notice a difference when you start using shampoo bars but that’s the point. There are many things out there that should never have been invented and sometimes, instead of finding ethical versions, we just need to learn to live without them.
The second is, don’t be hard on yourself. The economic system we’re currently enduring does not make sustainable living easy. Companies are not helping either as they try to greenwash their way out of bad press and it means there’s a lot of research, time and effort involved to work out what really is the best way to live sustainably. So, take it one step at a time and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Small changes can make a big difference and it’s often the little day to day things that are the easiest to alter.
You also write about the importance of reconnecting with nature. Why do you feel this is so vital and how can we do this better?
The great outdoors has always been a huge part of my life and it shocks me that there are people who believe they don’t like the outdoors, it’s disheartening to see that we’ve become so far removed from what and who we are as living creatures.
Personally, reconnecting with nature comes from two places. The first, a fascination and love for the beauty of our natural world and the delicate balance that allows for our existence, which in turn conjures up a feeling of responsibility to protect it.
The second is my health.
I’m a firm believer that many of the illnesses we suffer from today stem from a lack of connection with the natural world. I think the current medical system is extremely out dated when it comes to treating many illnesses and, for me, getting to the root cause of a problem/preventing it in the first place is far more important than simply masking the symptoms with medication.
There are countless health benefits to be gained from spending more time in nature. I also believe it’s the answer to many of the mental health issues that people suffer terribly from today. And, to be clear I don’t just mean walking in the park more often, although I still think that would be beneficial to many, I mean things like cold water thermogenesis, eating seasonally and managing a healthy relationship with technology.
Your current project is More This. Less That.; what can you tell us about it, and when can we expect to see it launch?
More This. Less That. Is going to be an online sourcebook of ethical and sustainable brands, eateries and initiatives across London and further afield. The idea stemmed from the fact that I always find it so difficult to find brands that are ethically minded but are stylish and modern too.
I think for a lot of people the word ‘eco’ conjures up the idea of handmade woolly hats, fake leather sandals and unfashionable clothing. With More This. Less That. we want to show the world that shopping considerately doesn’t mean compromising on style or quality. It’s about more than what you’re buying. It’s about the people you’re buying from, the communities you’re supporting and the growth of more ethical companies that you’re encouraging.
We’ve been through some ups and downs with the project and progress has been slower than we’d hoped but we’re getting ready to launch in October so keep an eye out.