Monday, April 17, 2017


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.

Gladwell, M. (2008, October 20). Late bloomers: Why do we equate genius with precocity? In The New Yorker (pp 38-44). New York, NY: The New Yorker.
Collins & Amabile: Collins, M. A., & Amabile, T. M. (1999). Motivation and creativity. In Robert J. Sternberg (Ed.) Handbook of Creativity. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Simonton: Simonton, D. K. (2012). Genius. In K. J. Holyoak & R. G. Morrison (Eds.), Oxford handbook of thinking and reasoning. New York: Oxford University Press.
Csikszentmihalyi: Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). The creative personality. In M. Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York: Harper/Collins.


  1. I was never aware that there was that much pollution covering the surface of the oceans! This is definitely a novel way in not only educating the public on plastic pollution, but it also exposes pollution to the more emotional, side of humans. Everyone really knows that pollution is having a devastating effect on the Earth's habitat, but we are usually being informed by fact and figures. Associating the destructive effect of pollution to a fictional character that are an element of fascination for many people strikes a cord with the heart rather than the head. This is a very creative approach because Von Wong was able to recognize this problem of indifference in people and find a way to bypass that. It seems that there is a combination of internal and external motivations for Von Wong. He is internally motivated by his love of photography and externally motivated by the need to save the environment.

  2. This reminds me a lot of the Center for Disease Control's 2012 campaign that featured zombies to raise awareness about emergency preparedness! Both of these creative approaches to solutions use something in pop culture, not necessarily relatable, but available to a lot of young peoples' eyes. Mermaids have always been a source of intrigue (especially with The Little Mermaid, my personal favorite Disney movie, being a hit) as with zombies with the success of the Walking Dead. While the CDC's campaign was a bit more tongue-in-cheek and fun, this one seems to appeal a lot more towards the pathos in us all, even if we aren't mermaids. We see mermaids as these beautiful, fantastical creatures and if we are hurting them, what other harm could we be doing? I think this is an awesome combination of using art both as an outlet and a source of dialogue.

  3. I think people understand that pollution is a problem in today's society, but do not grasp the magnitude. I can attest to that. I did not realize that 40 percent of the ocean's surface. I think that this is great way to raise awareness. I think that it captures the attention of many because you see such an beautiful image, but when you look closer, you realize that it is made from thousands of pieces of garbage. I wonder if he is pursuing other projects about other environmental issues and if this project has actually reformed any recycling policies.

  4. i remember seeing images of this project before. It is an amazing and incredibly creative solution to the problem. While many people know about pollution and how it seems to be getting worse, many do not realize the extent of the problem. by creating fantastical photographs that reference a huge issue this brings the problem of waste to the forefront of one's mind. It also takes away the idea that garbage and waste is disgusting. do you know if he has done other projects in regards to other issues? Is this just the most famous? Do you know the positive effects/reactions that came from this?


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