We are currently living in the Anthropocene: the geological period when humans are thought to have the biggest impact on the climate and environment of Earth. Plastic waste from the 1970s still washes up on our shores completely intact; the plastics that do decompose simply fall apart into smaller particles. Scientists are not sure how long it will take for this detritus to dissolve—or whether they will ever decay.
“Plastic Utopia” is a photographic project on the impact of our consumption on the environment. My hope is that nature will be strong and flexible enough to persevere. The series is also a reflection on my own behavior—my photographic waste.
I worked with three artists—all from other disciplines—to investigate this environmental situation. We decided to go into the field and do research in a pseudo-scientific way. For example, we investigated a seemingly clean beach, a park, etc. I made “inventory” images of the detritus we found. That was the beginning of “Plastic Utopia.” After that, I started placing our findings back into nature and taking photos with the future in mind. After some time, I started to incorporate objects that might not yet be considered waste, like abandoned toys.
I knew I wanted flash to play an important role in highlighting and isolating certain parts of the frame, so I decided to shoot this project digitally. I also wanted the colors to be strong—almost like a commercial product shoot—so I relied on post-processing to shift the colors and give the images a more intense, futuristic feeling.
I considered the aesthetics of this work very carefully. Some of my previous series had dark, almost muddy images. I felt that people were not looking at them. I had long discussions with fellow artists about this problem. I realized how often viewers disengage from work that is important but also ubiquitous—when you talk about politics, waste, or environmentalism, it is easy for people to disconnect because they are inundated with information on these topics.
In “Plastic Utopia,” I wanted people to see both the beauty of nature and the beauty of trash. I also want the audience to ask questions about my approach: am I making it too beautiful, too aesthetically pleasing? Perhaps I am, and yet perhaps this is a good way of forcing people to reflect on the subject.
Editors’ Note: Henri Blommers is a member of the LensCulture Network, a recent initiative we launched with the idea of offering talented, accomplished photographers a place to showcase their work on a global stage while also giving them a place to share, learn and engage with one another. The LensCulture Network began with a small number of hand-picked members, and we are very excited to watch it grow and evolve.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like one of these previous features: The (Once) Great Salt Lake, a series on a disappearing body of water in Iran; Scarecrows, images of contemporary sculptures that address humanity’s impact on the environment; and Portraits of Time, a series on ancient trees (some nearly 4,000 years old!) around the world.