Wrapped in Plastic
My photographic artwork has, for the past 40+ years, been made with a 4X5 view camera, with negatives printed in a traditional darkroom. But I have recently switched to an all-digital workflow, using my 35mm digital camera and an iPhone to more spontaneously respond to my surroundings, and printing resulting images with archival pigment inks on fine-art papers.
In 1996 I started a series of photographs on plastic-draped structures entitled Under Wraps: Buildings in Transition, a commentary on change, which portrays buildings shrouded during periods of construction or renovation. One day my wife asked me what they do with the plastic sheeting when the project is finished. As it turns out, it mostly ends up in the landfill.
About 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic were produced since the 1950s, and only about 9% was recycled, 12% was incinerated, and the remaining 79% ended up in landfills or the environment. Plastic is a ubiquitous material found in the deepest seas, and even at the 27,700-foot level of Mount Everest. Lately, my photography in this body of work reflects on the ways that plastic surrounds us, both literally and figuratively, and will be here for hundreds of years after we are gone. The wrapped buildings were photographed before the advent of COVID, but they suggest the isolation all of us experienced this last year. And the plastic hills and valleys, designed as erosion control measures, may signify our future reality as glacial ice sheets recede in the wake of global climate change.
"If you want to learn what someone fears losing, watch what they photograph." ~Anonymous
This quote resonates with my approach to photographing, especially in recent years, as threats to our environment are becoming more and more apparent. For many years I have been content to make carefully composed photographs that celebrate the beauty of our natural world. But lately, I feel an urgency to photograph elements of nature that are in observable danger of disappearing and work to preserve them for future generations.