Photographer Benjamin Von Wong is an expert at turning his creativity into a project with a larger purpose. His activism continues with a new series that highlights the impact of plastic pollution. Mermaids Hate Plastic exemplifies how art can be used to highlight broader issues. Von Wong began the journey by thinking about a way to make the “boring” topic of plastic pollution into something eye-catching and dynamic. With the aid of his team and a group of kind strangers, his fantasy to show mermaids swimming in an ocean of bottles came to fruition.
The sea of synthetic materials formed from 10,000 plastic bottles was a deliberate choice. The photographer calculated that if a human uses 167 plastic bottles a year, by the time they reach 60, they will have contributed 10,000 bottles to this dilemma. Plastic not only pollutes oceans, but releases toxins that can contaminate water sources. This also contributes to poor air quality through the discharge of poisonous chemicals. By having his model “swim” through an ocean of plastic, Von Wong creates a visual representation of environmental impact.
Setting up the shoot was no small feat and required the coordination of a large team. “One of my greatest strength[s] as an artist is that I am often too naive to realize how crazy my ideas are,” the photographer shares. “I dive into them head-first, rallying volunteers around a single cause. Thanks to the help of people who are often complete strangers at the beginning of my projects, what starts off as a small idea blossoms into a full blown production.”
As a first step, waste management center Tomra kindly agreed to deliver 10,000 plastic bottles—free of charge. Over the next few days, a small army of volunteers (found through social media and local news) cleaned and peeled labels off the bottles. Next, a former client (Power Dekor) lent out its large warehouse for a week as the shoot location, while Cynthia Brault (a designer who had helped with Von Wong’s sister’s wedding dress) designed the mermaid tale. The list of friends, family, and strangers who pulled together for the collective good of this higher cause grew continuously. Ultimately, this massive collaboration made the shoot greater than the sum of its parts.
After these initial preparations, Von Wong and local artist Allison Blue spent an entire day laying out different compositions with the colored bottles. They made adjustments until the spectacular beach for their mermaid appeared. In the meantime, hair, makeup, and body paint were perfected on model Clara. The end result is a thought-provoking series of photographs that challenges us to reconsider our habits. “Change happens when individuals come together to fight for something they believe in,” Von Wong declares.
How can you join in the cause?
First, sign the #MermaidsHatePlastic pledge to purchase non-disposable products, in order to show countries and corporations that the environment matters. Also, consider switching to a re-usable bottle and informing yourself—and your friends—about the effects of plastic pollution. In the meantime, scroll down for behind the scenes images and a video about the making of the project.