Andy Hughes - Hermosa Beach, Los Angeles, CA, 2005

Max Liboiron contributes this post about a specific and luminously beautiful garbage-art — and its devastating implications. Liboiron is a scholar, activist, and artist engaged in work that is deeply relevant to the themes of the Discard Studies project. She is joining the blog as a regular author, so will soon be posting under her own name.  It’s a pleasure to welcome her!

Andy Hughes’ photographs of beached plastic trash are gorgeous.

He places one piece of trash centrally in each frame, like a portrait. The way they fill the picture before a low horizon line makes them loom like massive beach architecture. These architectural portraits, serene and sublime, have a commanding presence at the same time that they seem part of their environment.

Andy Hughes - Hermosa Beach, Los Angeles, CA, 2005

Andy Hughes - Hermosa Beach, Los Angeles, CA, 2005

Portraiture and architecture are appropriate genres for marine plastics. Plastic pollution is a main source of body burdens, or the industrial chemicals that accumulate in our bodies. Plastics are ubiquitous in our daily lives and in our marine ecosystems. The plastics industry produces 250 billion pounds of virgin raw plastic pellets per year. Around 315 billion pounds of that is in the ocean. As plastics are ingested by marine life, those toxins move up the food chain. Every few years, ocean currents wash some of their plastic loads onto beaches. A portrait of plastic is a portrait of our environment, and, in a sense, our own bodies.

Most strikingly, Hughes’ plastic portraits look like they belong in their environments. Pink plastic bits become gorgeous, if alien, towers on the beach. Discarded buoys squat solidly on the sand, like giant eyes that are part of a new marine life form. Polyurethane containers look like mountainous landforms. The defamiliarization of everyday plastic objects makes them seem fantastic and futuristic — except they are our present and our legacy. And here, in Hughes’ photographs, we can mediate on these tiny discards, these single-use objects that have fallen through the cracks, as a permanent new face on the planet.” — Max Liboiron