Art purists tend to regard anyone capable of conjuring up scenes from their imagination using colorful pigments applied with a masterful, painterly touch with great regard. When it comes to their perspective on photographers, however, they often relegate those behind the lens to the ‘skilled documentarian’ category – after all, how hard is it to point and shoot?
With an increasing number of environmentally-sympathetic photographers highlighting the woes of the natural world, it only seems fair to give them the credit that they so rightfully deserve. The chosen palette of masters such as Claude Monet, Rembrandt and Vincent Van Gogh yielded some of the most classically emotive images of all time and yet their modern camera-wielding counterparts are blazing their own path by capturing the all-too-common scenes of man-made waste encroaching on once pristine landscapes.
Chris Jordan’s jarring depictions of mass consumption and waste come to mind, as do husband-wife team Richard and Judith Selby Lang’s photographic assemblages of weathered, ocean-battered post-consumer debris harvested from various California beaches. Equally as stirring are Irish-born Andrew McConnell’s hard to fathom scenes of tons upon tons of highly toxic, western-derived electronic waste being hand-sorted by Ghana residents in what looks like an apocalyptic nightmare and Mary Taffe’s photographic documentation of a freshwater reservoir right outside her home that slowly but surely succumbed to systematic pollution via a local factory dairy farm.
Yet another example of visually arresting, eco-themed photography comes courtesy of Alejandro Duran and his “Washed Up” series. Featuring monochromatic palettes of post-consumer plastic waste collected from the shores of 38 countries (including England, Japan, America, Turkey, Brazil and Morocco), the photographer artfully arranges discarded doll parts, countless plastic containers, patio furniture and an impossible array of hot pink sandals on contrasting natural landscapes indigenous to Sian Ka’an Reserve located on Mexico’s Caribbean coast.
The result is a juxtaposition of comforting earthy elements such as ocean-worn stones and grassy knolls competing for space with the incredibly unwelcome sight of infinite solidified petroleum-derived relics we’ve long since cast aside. Duran’s out-of-place eyesores are designed to make us uneasy, reminding us that somehow, the items that we deposit in the nearest garbage pail always end up coming back to haunt us in the end.