When I first started my Waste project, I wasn’t entirely sure about what I wanted to do or how I wanted to achieve it. I knew there were certain things I didn’t want to do – such as simply photographing rubbish on the ground outside – as I knew it was most likely something that’d been done many times before by both professional photographers and other students. It was by looking into other artists that I realized what direction I wanted to go with this project and I’m really happy with the results.
Creating things – like sculptures, paintings or even drawings – is something I really struggle with and previously struggled with when I was on an Art Foundation course last year, so deciding to try and make something for this project was definitely a challenge for me. The piece, which consisted of plastic carrier bags cut up and stuck down on 3 sheets of A1 card, took me four days to make (five if I include the test run I did on two sheets of A4 paper stuck together) and although it became quite tedious I found it really enjoyable to create something myself. The piece I made wasn’t exactly how I initially pictured it to be but I’m really happy with the results. To stick it up against the ceiling I used blu-tack which made it easy to put up but also meant that it could unpredictably fall due to the weight of the plastic, tape and the card itself. Towards the end of taking pictures, both the sheets of card on the walls fell whilst the card still on the ceiling remained and although this wasn’t what I was aiming for I did photograph it just in case I were to find them helpful or if my project developed in another direction.
Deciding on the layout of the way in which I would present the pictures in a magazine was also something I enjoyed as it was interesting to think about different ways in which things can be presented other than just full page portrait or double page landscape. I liked the idea of negative page space going around the image – such as my final page (left, top) – and I also really liked the idea of text being within the negative space of the photograph itself (left, bottom). I chose magazine instead of exhibition space because not only do I personally prefer magazines to exhibitions, but also because within a magazine the photographs can be used alongside an article and I think that article could be something really informative about the effects plastic carrier bags have on the environment – marine life particularly – and what people need to do to solve these issues.
I’m really happy with the results of this project and I’m glad that I decided to challenge myself by trying to make the photograph subject myself. However, if I could further improve the project I think I could’ve made more than one sculpture, perhaps a smaller and a larger one so that I could perhaps physically capture the ‘growth’ the title describes. I think it could have been interesting to show different stages of the plastic bags consuming my environment much like carelessly discarded plastic carrier bags consume the environment of birds and marine life.
The research references I used for this project were a mixture of photography, graphic art and installation. I would have liked to include a look into film but I really struggled to remember the movie my reference to dark hair came from. I also created a photomontage of photography, graphic art and paintings depicting plastic carrier bags because I was interested in seeing how other artists chose to portray the subject and to give me ideas on how to approach the idea myself.
Sophie Gerrard’s ‘E-Wasteland’ series consisted of a number of different shots that communicated the message of just how bad the electronic waste issue in India has become. I found that one of the successful ways she did this was by capturing the piles of waste – such as computer monitors or keyboards – in their large numbers. This inspired me to try to use a large number of one thing, as opposed to just two or three singular subjects on their own, in my own project as I felt it was really effective. I also really liked how she photographed people throughout the series too as it shows just who is being directly affected by this toxic waste.
Similarly, Chris Jordan’s ‘Running the Numbers’ series was successful to me for the same reason as Sophie Gerrard’s series; that it – quite literally – portrayed the respective issues through the use of numbers and repetition. To create the images he scanned the subject and digitally duplicated it to create his piece and so although his graphics were on a much larger scale than anything I could achieve, I was really inspired by the fact he used a precise number of the subject – no matter how large that value was – to communicate just how bad the individual issues have become.
Song Dong’s ‘Waste Not’ installation piece directed my project in two ways. The first is that it inspired me to use plastic bags for my project as his subject were things that his mother had collected and plastic bags are something myself and my family collect on a regular basis. Therefore not only was it practical as I definitely had a great amount of plastic carrier bags already on hand to be used, but it was also somewhat personal to me as recycling and reusing plastic bags is something I’ve been raised to care about. The second way it helped direct me is that it, paired with the movie, inspired me to make something to photograph. I initially considered wrapping the plastic bags around different objects but I found this difficult to do and the second and final idea much more practically and easier to accomplish.
The horror movie I refer to in previous research was something I really struggled with as being unable to remember which movie it was made it difficult to do any concrete research on it. The scene I can recall and was inspired by had hair growing out of the corner of the ceiling in long black waves and this, to me, reminded me of dark oil spills created by human carelessness. I saw a link between oil spills and plastic bags because these are both things that directly affect marine life and birds and both are due to humans neglect. The scene from this movie inspired the concept behind the subject itself as well as the title because I liked the idea that, like the hair, the plastic carrier bags could grow and consume the room in a reflection of how the amount of plastic bags being used and discarded is growing worse over the years.
When it comes to how my pictures will be presented, I have a choice of two magazines – National Geographic and Guardian Weekend Magazine – or two exhibition spaces – Zandra Rhodes Gallery or Nucleus Arts Gallery. Out of the four choices, I have chosen to present my images in the National Geographic because it’s the choice I’m most familiar with and a magazine I admire. Additionally, after looking through a friend’s copy of one of the National Geographic issues, I was really drawn to the different ways of laying out images to form a several page spread. It was by looking at other issues and spreads both physically and online that I got inspiration for how I wanted my project to be laid out. One of my favourite layouts is that which I found on lemonandraspberry.com, because I really liked the way it was laid out with a strong focus on the pictures with very little text.
It was looking at these layouts that allowed me to estimate the size I’d need my pictures to be to fit on the pages in similar ways, such as the page with three image taking up the whole space. This page was something I definitely wanted to do for my own spread and I knew it would require cropping to make it happen. The final layout would like this:
Schubert, A. (2012) Lemon and Raspberry [online blog] In: lemonandraspberry.com At: http://lemonandraspberry.com/2012/10/layout-inspiration-national-geographic/
‘I’ve had people come up to me and say: “I’ve seen your work and I’ll never look at a plasticbag the same way again.” I want people to stop and think about the plastic cups lying around and blowing away. No one cares, because it’s normal. I don’t want to make this political statement with my images, I just want to create awareness around the issue, making people aware of it.’ – Vilde Rolfsen
Whilst producing work for her final project, Norwegian photographer Vilde Rolfsen accidentally stumbled across what would become a project she’d be very passionate about. Rolfsen was born into what she calls ‘a use and throw culture’ which in turn has influenced her interest in consumerism and the relationship between humans and objects. By removing every day throwaway objects – such as plastic carrier bags – from their original function, she feels that she is challenging society’s perceptions of everyday objects by forcing people to look at the object as an aesthetic instead of just something of use.
Whilst working on another project, her eye was caught by the plastic bag in which she’d been using to carry the objects she was originally photographing. She began taking photographs of the bag, interested by the way the light caught it at certain angles. The series ‘Plastic Bag Landscapes’ is made up of a collection of photographs of the inside of plastic carrier bags. Through the use of light and different coloured cardboard, Rolfsen was able to play with perspective, thus forcing people to see the bags as more than just an object of use but also as individual imaginary landscapes.
Rolfsen, V. (s.d) artist_statement. At: http://vilderolfsen.com/artist_statement
Van Spall, I. (2014) ‘Plastic Bag Landscapes by Vilde Rolfsen’ In: AnOther Magazine [online] At: http://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/3675/plastic-bag-landscapes-by-vilde-rolfsen
Rae Uy, M. (2014) ‘The Beautiful Anti-Consumerism Plastic Bag Landscape Photographs of Vilde Rolfsen’ In: thephoblographer.com [online] At: http://www.thephoblographer.com/2014/08/06/beautiful-anti-consumerism-plastic-bag-landscape-photographs-vilde-rolfsen/#.VPz40vmsVK1
‘After short, useful lives, discarded plastic bags enter into a perpetual state of retirement, their spent utility a metaphor for our own mortal anxiety, whereas the demise of plastic is a distant, uncertain prospect. The moment of disclosure (cognition) is delayed to induce a sense of disorientation allowing the viewer to disassociate themselves from the dogma of optical faith.’ – Kevin Newark
In his own words, English photographer Kevin Newark describes his photography as resonating ‘around the theme of space, time, anxiety and displacement.’ This concept is reflected in his series ‘Photoplasm’, a collection of photographs of what appears to be plastic carrier bags suspended and floating in complete darkness. The darkness is in fact water, specifically the canals of East London in which Newark found discarded plastic carrier bags floating on and just below the surface. Curator Greg Hobson points out that the plastic bags look almost angelic, ‘like telescopic views of heavenly bodies’ which is quite a contrast to the reality that the discarded bags are contributing to the suffocation of the environment.
(2009) Kevin Newark: Protoplasm [online blog] In: shutterhub.org.uk At: http://shutterhub.org.uk/blog/kevin-newark-protoplasm
(2009) ‘Kevin Newark’s Protoplasm takes the art of plastic bags to Leeds Pavilion’ In: culture24.org.uk [online] At: http://www.culture24.org.uk/art/art65276
After watching and revising the lecture presented by my teacher, I was really drawn to the work of photographer Sophie Gerrard. Much like Song Dong and Chris Jordan, her work is made powerful due to the repetition of the subjects. From these three photographers I was really inspired to do something similar; communicating an important message by capturing a large number of subjects.
When I was living at home my family kept all plastic bags we acquired from shopping which led to us having a lot stuffed away in a draw to be used again for something else. Moving away from home and to university accommodation, this is a habit that I’ve found I still have and months of living alone has left me with a good number of plastic carrier bags that I can used for this project. Not only does this make my project a little easier as I already have a great deal of the subject material on hand, but it’s also kind of personal to me as these are bags that I’ve subconsciously hoarded.
However, I’m not a hundred percent sure of what I’m doing to do with the bags yet, so I created a digital mood board (below) so that I could take a look at what other photographers and artists have produced using plastic carrier bags. Click on the image for a bigger picture.
Looking at these images, I feel like the negative space also contributes in making each piece interesting to look at. Although they show completely opposite ends of the grey-scale spectrum, both Edi Yang and Huang Xu produces intriguing images that draw the viewer’s eye to the otherwise ordinary plastic carrier bag. Additionally, the fact that the plastic bags have been ripped and pulled so that they no longer remain in the shape of a bag adds a sense of surreality to the photographs.