Can a work of art effectively motivate masses to stand-up for an important cause and is it more effective than regular, in-your-face activism? The self-proclaimed “viral epic photographer” Benjamin Von Wong wholeheartedly believes so, and uses this belief as the jumping point for his project, Mermaids Hate Plastic. Bringing together 10,000 plastic bottles, one mermaid, and a single wish, Von Wong aims to bring the voracious plastic waste of the average American to light through a series of colorful mermaid photographs.
The photographer equipped models with mermaid tails made by designer Cynthia Brault to enact the role of a beached mermaid, hopelessly stranded upon thousands of plastic bottles—10,000 to be exact.
Incorporating outside research, Von Wong discovered that the average American uses 167 plastic bottles yearly, which over a span of 60 years totals an immense 10,000 plastic bottles used per person in a lifespan. Tomra, a Norwegian waste management company provided the photographer with the bottles for use in the project, which were de-labeled, un-capped, and cleaned by a series of volunteers.
Organized by color to create fantastical shapes like a giant droplet of water and an enormous, vibrant typhoon, the bottles served as the backdrop for mermaids in peril, helplessly trapped among the mass of refuse.
With Von Wong’s masterful photographic touch, the end result are images full of intrigue and helpless beauty. “I definitely think that art has the potential to touch people in a way that statistics and news don’t,” the photographer tells The Creators Project.
“Through my work, I hope to create imagery that doesn’t preach to the choir — the idea is that if I can leverage a touch of disbelief and curiosity through my work, maybe I can bring people along an adventure and through the process. Educating them without being too preachy seems like a fairly successful strategy so far.”
There is an aspect of education, not only in terms of activism and awareness, but in terms of understanding how the artist works. Von Wong actively shows behind-the-scenes images of his photographic projects.
“I believe that behind each photograph there are two stories; the one that the image itself tells and the process of creating it. Often times, the process can be more interesting than the final results,” Von Wong explains.
“When you look at a project, large and complex, like Mermaids Hate Plastic, it’s easy to get lost in the complexity of it,” he adds. But when you break it down and show that it’s not a big Hollywood crew or an advertising agency with unlimited budget putting something complicated together, and just a bunch of volunteers, I think it is really empowering and can resonate with people. I enjoy sharing the process because I hope that it empowers people to get out there, live their passions, and believe in themselves.”
Check out this three part process video on the project: