Did you know that there is a giant garbage patch, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, that is twice the size of Texas floating in the ocean? Unfortunately, that is not the only patch floating on our seas. These patches are found in convergences in the ocean and account for about 40% of the all the ocean’s surfaces. Plastic pollution has become such a ginormous problem for the Earth’s oceans that by 2050 the amount of plastics in the ocean will outnumber the amount of fish in the sea. Although this plastic pollution is a detriment to sea life, plastic can also be a potential human health threats due to the chemicals that are easily absorbed by the body.
Benjamin Von Wong, a conceptual photographer from Toronto, Ontario, knew “that plastic pollution was a boring topic,” and he “had to find a way to make it more interesting.” This was the beginning of his famous photography pieces, which transform piles of plastic garbage into their message: #MermaidsHatePlastic.
On his website, Von Wong shoots videos and describes the process for creating pieces that demonstrate the plastic pollution problem. In a year, an average American uses 167 plastic bottles, which adds up to 10000 bottles in 60 years. Each of those bottles take 450 years to degrade. In order to illustrate this, Von Wong borrowed 10000 bottles from a waste management center, Tomra. A friend offered a warehouse to Von Wong for the preparation and shooting of this photograph. Von Wong then gathered a group of family, friends, and other volunteers to uncap, de-label, and clean the donated bottles. Together with this group, Von Wong tinkered with the makeup and placement of the mermaid as well as the configuration of the bottles in hopes to provoke conversations and inspire people to pledge to re-use and lessen their environmental impact.
His motivation for spreading the word about plastic pollution in the ocean stems from his creativity in finding a unique way to solve the problem at hand and from the enjoyment he derives from creating these creative photographs. Although he graduated from McGill University with a degree in Mining Engineering, he quit his job as an underground mine planning and design engineer to follow his passion for photography. This is very similar to path Ben Fountain took in Gladwell’s “Late Bloomers.”
Despite starting late on his career in the photography, Von Wong has made his way up to the spotlight with his #MermaidsHatePlastic pieces and other collaborations in the past. His creativity is reminiscent of that discussed in Csikszentmihalyi’s “Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention.” Von Wong is intensely interested and curious about conservation and climate change, which has led his to recognize an interesting way to solve the problem of plastic pollution in the ocean by integrating actual plastic waste and mermaids into his photographs. Both elements help to engage a larger audience and bring awareness to the issue with pollution in the ocean. His “fluid attention that constantly processes events in the environment” allowed Von Wong to relate plastic pollution to photography that best suited his strengths in his field. With his novel solutions to recurrent problems with bringing awareness to pollution in the ocean, he displays both “thought and action that in most people are segregated.” Stated another way, Von Wong is able to think about the concern of plastic pollution and actively works to bring awareness and start conversations in this matter.
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Csikszentmihalyi: Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). The creative personality. In M. Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York: Harper/Collins.