Something Rich and Strange
A casual find on a Pembrokeshire beach became a full-blown project for photographic artist Mike Perry. He tells Emma Geliot about some of the challenges in presenting work about environmental change.
I first saw Mike Perry’s series of photographs for Môr Plastig online and was immediately taken with them. But seeing them in the flesh in Venice, shot at 1:1 scale with incredible detail, was a revelation. I left the show with Ariel’s speech from Shakespeare’s The Tempest running through my mind, reminded that Nature is a powerful force and that nothing... “…Doth fade, but doth suffer a sea-change, into something rich and strange” And I wanted to know more, so I asked him. Emma Geliot: How did Môr Plastig come about? Did you find a single thing or come to the realisation that the beach was full of these unusual objects? Mike Perry: I started picking up and collecting bits of plastic after I moved from London to the West coast of Wales in 2005. At first, I played around with them as sculptural ready-mades, but soon started photographing them with a small digital camera, recording them in a book format, like a contemporary guide to the seashore. I was mainly interested in playing with the juxtaposition of shapes and colours. The environmental story was important but secondary at this stage.
Eventually, I started photographing single pieces with a powerful medium format digital camera, which allowed me to capture the degrading effects of the sea on the plastic with extreme detail. My recent landscape work had been photographing Man’s impact on Nature, but here I was looking at Nature’s impact on the man-made. I realised that, as individual objects, they told a fuller story... not just the environmental narrative, and what we are leaving for future generations, but also how Nature breaks down and re-designs our material world. EG: When did the photographing of these objects become a project in your mind and did you impose any kind of structure or criteria on yourself? MP: I knew, as soon as I had made the first single piece, that there was something promising here and Môr Plastig, Welsh for ‘Plastic Sea’, was the obvious title. By photographing the object, rather than just framing it as a ready made, I was giving it a different status. The ‘structure’ I imposed was to photograph each piece forensically at a scale of 1:1, straight onto camera and with flat, neutral light. This is intended to bring objectivity to the process, allowing the viewer to decide how to interpret the objects and their stories. I didn’t want to create highly emotional campaigning images. Instead, I wanted to reduce the objects to their pure formal states, separating them for a moment from any meaning beyond their sculptural presence. The ambiguity or tension that
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