Beautiful Rubbish: Artists Using Photography to Highlight Our Waste ProblemBeautiful Rubbish: Artists Using Photography to Highlight Our Waste Problem

Beautiful Rubbish: Artists Using Photography to Highlight Our Waste Problem

These creative artists are highlighting vital conservation issues through photography.

These creative artists are highlighting vital conservation issues through photography.

It’s almost impossible not to notice how vastly humanity has polluted our world, and a large portion of what we see is plastic. Mainly due to its uncanny ability to never break down, but also because it is often blatantly foreign when it is stumbled upon in the natural world. Walk down the beach of any populated area and you are pretty much guaranteed to find a piece of plastic or rubbish that doesn’t belong there.
Earlier this year scientists found plastic in the world’s deepest ocean, a telling sign of just how much human waste has permeated this planet. Our rubbish has reached the deepest, darkest hole in the earth. We wrote recently about ways we can all reduce our environmental footprint when we’re travelling, and hopefully, as a collective, we begin to reduce the amount of waste we’re letting fall to the deepest depths of our planet. After you’ve been inspired by the photographs below, head over to Plastic Free July and collectively help put these artists out of work, wouldn’t that be wonderful?
Photography and art have long been utilised as a medium to highlight conservation issues. These intertwining political and social issues within an artist’s work is an effective way to bring an issue to the forefront of people’s minds. We wrote about the photo that saved the Franklin River and now we’re bringing you our favourite photographers who are creating imagery that frames litter in front of the lens. From hauntingly beautiful photographs of plastic trees in the desert to portraits in our homes showing how much waste our consumption generates.
As passionate travellers and photographers, we think it’s important to champion the artists doing work that contributes back in some way to the planet we love exploring. Hopefully, these artists inspire you in some way to help look after the lands we all call home and start seriously thinking twice about using that single-use supermarket plastic bag.

Eduardo Leal – Plastic Trees

Medellín, Colombia
Instagram: @eduardoleal80
In this series of whimsical and disturbing photographs, Portuguese documentary photographer Eduardo Leal has captured plastic bags along the Bolivian Altiplano. The bags in these photographs are only a handful of the millions floating along these plains. The series calls for attention to the damage this waste is doing to the agricultural and animal life in these areas.
769 marine debris footballs (and pieces of) collected from 41 countries and islands around the world, from 144 different beaches, and by 89 members of the public in just 4 months

Mandy Baker – Marine Plastic Debris Photographer

United Kingdom
Instagram: @mandybarkerphotography
Mandy Baker has devoted over eight years of her recent life to creating awareness through her photography, particularly within our marine environments and the waste floating within. Working closely with scientists from all over the globe she has created bodies of work that span from Australia’s coastlines to documenting a Greenpeace mission to recover marine debris, and from the remote islands of Inner Hebrides in Scotland.
"769 marine debris footballs (and pieces of) collected from 41 countries and islands around the world, from 144 different beaches, and by 89 members of the public in just 4 months"

Mandy Baker

Her work focuses on using the aesthetic appeal of beauty and form to create a poetic and poignant message around marine pollution. Mandy is no doubt partially responsible for the next surf you have without getting a lolly wrapper stuck in your wetty. Go and check out her incredible work on her website, it’s an astounding body of work with plenty of facts and compelling artist statements to accompany the photographs.

Jefferson Caine Lankford – Wilful Ignorance

Greenville, United States
Instagram: @jeffersoncainelankford
The mentality of “As long as it’s not in my backyard” has long since become a backwards approach to our conservation efforts. It, unfortunately, is still extremely prevalent as an attitude towards waste and consumption. Jefferson Caine trained his Mamiya 7 onto friends and subjects swimming in household waste to challenge this mentality. All of the rubbish was collected by Jefferson in his Greenville neighbourhood parks and alleys.

Alejandro Durán – Washed Up

Brooklyn, New York
Instagram: @washedupproject
Hailing from Mexico and currently residing in the boroughs of New York, Alejandro has been long interested in the meeting point of humans and nature, particularly human waste. His Washed Up series used photographs and installation works created using debris washed up along Mexico’s Caribbean coast. The artist collected, documented and sorted mountains of waste over several years and curates it into disquieting and layered imagery. Alejandro and his team of dedicated conservationists have also created an insightful tool on the website that traces all of the waste products photographed back their place of production. Dubbed “International Flotsam” the interactive Google map also helps to drive the message home. Hint, unless you’re reading this from Greenland, there is a pretty high chance your country has produced something that was eventually washed up and been photographed by Alejandro in Mexico.

Harley Weir & Wilson Oryema – @rubbish_1.2

London, United Kingdom
Website: |
Instagram: @harleyweir | @wilson_oryema
Harley Weir is a London born photographing genius who has shot campaigns for everybody from Balenciaga to Jacquemus in her relatively short career so far. Whilst she may be firmly entrenched in the fashion world and the heavily consumer influenced nature of such an environment, she is also very aware of waste and production costs. In 2015 she started documenting the waste around her London neighbourhood on the Instagram @rubbish_1.2. This changed the way she thought about her own consumption and plastic usage and spurred her to educate others.
Wilson Oryema is an artist producing within several disciplines and using his platform to challenge a wasteful lifestyle and bring attention to conscious consumption.
The two progressive thinkers teamed up with photographer and poet Oryema to show a body of work from her rubbish series coupled with poetry from Oryema to strengthen the message. The photographs are painted in tones not dissimilar to what you would expect from a fashion editorial in Numero and the poetry rings alarmingly true to a typical modern consumers habits. They aim to encourage people to take responsibility for their own lifestyle choices and the waste they generate. The show is in its final days at Soft Opening in London if you would like to visit.