Photography The disturbing aesthetics of waste in two iconic photographic projects

The disturbing aesthetics of waste in two iconic photographic projects

Laura Tota
Gregg Segal e Mandy Barker |

In the Setting agenda managing the priority of information to be conveyed through the media, the environmental issue occupies a fluctuating position, alternating moments of high media attention (especially during special anniversaries such as that dedicated to Earth Day on April 22nd) to moments of total silence. However, issues relating to climate change, pollution or waste have been urgent for too many years. In the specific case of waste, it is estimated that global waste production will increase in 2050 to 3.88 billion tonnes if the world continues on its current trajectory, when it already reached 2.24 billion tonnes in 2020 (1). The fact that this issue has always been relevant is also demonstrated by the extreme attention that the world of photography has devoted over the years to the theme, often through works with a remarkable expressive power.

Already in 2014, the photographer Gregg Segal with his iconic “7 Days of Garbage” invited each individual to take responsibility for the production of household waste through a series of shots with a strong visual impact: a totally irresponsible relationship with the waste that was made explicit by laying the responsible people on real carpets of waste produced by themselves in a single week. An exorbitant amount that no individual was aware of until they were lying on it.

Segal has recreated the backgrounds in a meticulous way, reproducing all natural scenarios such as lakes, meadows, beaches, to underline that the presence of waste does not save even the non-human contexts, rather: often pleasant and uncontaminated places become deposits of waste and waste, thus ruining entire ecosystems. The result is a total dissonance between the posed bodies, often smiling or otherwise emotionally detached from the context, and the presence of the waste of industrial production daily produced. Families, couples, single people: no one is excluded from this test of self-awareness that remains sadly topical and that makes “7 Days of Garbage” a timeless project.

The waste is also at the center of Mandy Barker’s practice, a British photographer who has made the environmental cause the red thread of her photography production, focusing mainly on plastic pollution.At first glance, her shots seem to reproduce galaxies, portions of the universe in which solitary planets orbit, but the investigation has a completely different object: on closer inspection, all the compositions consist of thousands of debris that the artist has collected along the coasts of the world to denounce the current global crisis of marine pollution by plastic.

Among the others, her work “Every… snowflake is different” consists of a composition plastic elements recovered from the shoreline of the Spurn Point Nature Reserve in the UK and that include margarine jars, medicine packaging, coat hangers, lollipops, caps, trays, pans and much more.Again, the contradiction between the wonderful aesthetics of these scraps and the resulting ecological disaster aims to invite the viewer to become more aware and active in the production and management of waste: to achieve this goal, Mandy works closely with scientists and biologists so that her shots are supported by scientific data that can stimulate a real change in the viewer.

Written by Laura Tota
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