Plastic was a miracle invention, created to make our lives more livable and modern. It offers many conveniences to how we purchase and package our goods, and even create some of the things we buy. However, it is here to stay. Unlike the natural material that we used in the past for these items, plastics take hundreds of years to break down their components and become part of the ecosystem, consisting of oil and chemicals bonded together to be durable and permanent. We continue to manufacture more and more of this material. It swims in our oceans, sits in our landfills, and litters our neighborhoods.

Forever 20 Photogram © Paul Rider

A study by the National Academy of Sciences proclaims: “The developing plastic waste crisis has been building for decades. The success of the 20th century miracle invention of plastics has also produced a global scale deluge of plastic waste seemingly everywhere we look.” According to the Washington Post, the US produced 42 million metric tons of plastic waste in 2016—almost twice as much as China, and more than the entire European Union combined.

Forever 08 Photogram © Paul Rider

The huge amount of plastic that exists in our world is explored in these images, drawing on early photography such as the photogenic drawings by William Henry Fox Talbot in The Pencil of Nature. While Talbot was using natural elements in the creation of his imagery, my images use the manmade material of plastic. With Talbot’s process, the images were in a sense an artistic document of an ephemeral object. These images are slightly the reverse; an artistic creation utilizing objects that will outlive us, and most likely the process the imagery is created with.

— Paul Rider


Editor’s Note: We discovered this work while reviewing submissions for this year’s Critics’ Choice Awards. Be sure to spend some time with all 40 of the winning projects.