In 2013, I watched a documentary on the Monterey Bay Aquarium where a volunteer held up a jar for the audience to see. She explained that the colorful plastic pieces filling the jar were collected from the remains of a dead albatross on Midway Atoll. Countless albatross, mistaking floating plastic debris for food, die each year of starvation. Plastic debris, recovered from dead albatross on Midway Atoll, is the subject of False Food. I’ve been criticized for not being more aggressive in my representation of this crisis. But negative images tend to cause helplessness and overwhelm in people. Warnings of terror become acts of terror themselves—triggering fear. In lieu of proliferating horrific images of ocean plastic pollution, False Food chooses to make transformative statements to raise consciousness, rather than numb it. The intent of these photographs is to bring awareness of the problems of plastic pollution by engaging the viewer through aesthetics, not fear.
The plastic pollution crisis that overwhelms the oceans is also a significant and growing threat to the Earth’s climate. Greenhouse gases are emitted at each stage of the plastic lifecycle—extraction and transport, refining and manufacture, and waste management. Plastic at the ocean’s surface continually releases methane and other greenhouse gases and these emissions increase as the plastic breaks down. Plastic on coastlines, riverbanks, and landscapes release gases at even higher rates. Microplastic in the ocean may interfere with the ocean’s capacity to absorb and sequester carbon dioxide.
We live in a disposable culture. We also live in a closed ecosystem. What we throw away we ultimately consume—through breathing, drinking, and eating. Unlike organic debris, plastic doesn’t biodegrade. It photo-degrades into smaller and smaller particles, absorbing toxins along the way until it becomes a soup of toxic molecular plastic. At this size, it enters the food chain and we become the albatross.
© The Photographer's Eye: A Creative Collective