Pollution through the lens of Tommy Clarke
Exploring any coastal town you will experience first hand the extent to which our planet needs us to change our ways and adopt three basic instructions: reuse, reduce, recycle. There are many documentaries such as Our Planet, One Strange Rock, Frozen Blue Planet, that portray the detrimental effects we are having on the environment and in some way educate us on how to improve our day-to-day ways. Photography is another form that has the power to influence our community by delivering perspectives of things and places that we wouldn’t necessarily see, but to what extent can we trust the images we are looking at?
For a world that is shifting from an environmental point of view we need influential figures like daredevil photographer Tommy Clarke to open our eyes and showcase the reality of what most photography ceases to portray. It all started about fifteen years ago when, following from a snowboarding accident, Clarke picked up a camera for the first time and discovered that hanging out of helicopters to capture a birds-eye view of the most captivating landscapes was the path he wanted to pursue, although he said: “I’m not very good with heights.” His book Up in the Air showcases his series of aerial photography taken over six years. It wasn’t until realising what he thought was seaweed from above was actually dots of plastic along the beach in Antigua, that he realised he could bring awareness to the environmental impact we have on our planet through his works.
It was this time last year that Clarke created a sculpture series titled ‘drop plastic’ after walking along the shoreline on his local beach in Bournemouth. He was cleaning the sand from copious amounts of bottle caps and other plastic waste that are detrimental to our ecosystems if ended up in the sea. He spent the following days researching various solutions to reuse this plastic in order to reduce disposability and he discovered that HDPE, the plastic used in the production of plastic bottles, is very malleable and can be used to mould into meaningful artwork. A water drop was the first sculpture he created. He said: “The idea is to create sculptures that can garner a high price so that that money can go back into the research that’s needed to find ways to stop plastic from reaching the oceans.”
But we’re not only threatening our oceans, our landscapes are also under constant threat. Manmade landscapes are the result of the combination of metal plants and landfill areas that, unless we are visually exposed to, we are unaware of their existence. Clarke speaks about his recent job in Amsterdam where he went to shoot the tulip fields and on the way back he flew over the industrial and port area and saw nothing but metal-filled fields. He said: “It is a landscape that has gone from the beauty of the tulips to something horrible to look at.” Manmade landscapes are on the rise since the amount of landfill sites are heavily decreasing and by 2020 there will only be about 50 in the entire country according to the Guardian.
This is where Clarke, and many more influential figures can inspire our community through their work and social media to take part in this eco-friendly journey and make a difference, no matter how small. As they say ‘every little helps’.