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Waste World - Picturing the pollution in our seas

Waste World - Picturing the pollution in our seas (Image: Karl Taylor)
14 Dec
The January issue’s dramatic cover image was designed to highlight the overwhelming problem of garbage pollution in our planet’s seas. We caught up with Karl Taylor, the photographer behind this shot, to see how and why the image was created

How to create a striking image? Is it about capturing the raw, unvarnished truth; or is it about shock, drama and creativity? Commercial photographer Karl Taylor chose the latter approach when it came to highlighting the extent of litter in our oceans. Having been approached by a marine biologist – a Guernsey local called Richard Lord who was keen to highlight the extent of the problem – Taylor decided that drama was key. When Lord and his team of volunteers returned with thousands of pieces of litter, collected from just two kilometres of the Guernsey coastline over a one-month period, his vision really began to take shape.

‘I know from some campaigns I’ve worked on that you go for a different angle – you grab people’s attention with different methods,’ says Taylor. ‘I explored the sort of rubbish that had been collected and amongst it were these needles and syringes. That was shocking and I thought, right, we need to use this. I was also thinking about future generations – where are we going to be in 50 years with this mess? So that led me to the concept of introducing the next generation into the picture. Obviously the shock factor was going to be easy to achieve with the baby holding a hypodermic needle.’

The January 2020 issue of Geographical takes an in-depth look at the ever-growing problem of our global garbage production. With China and other countries now banning imports, what can we do about a world awash with waste?
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Having arranged the rubbish artfully in the studio, Taylor photographed the baby in the centre, holding one of the (thoroughly sterilised) plastic syringe tubes. The needle and ocean backdrop were added in post-production. ‘I wanted to have a post-apocalyptic look,’ he says. ‘So I went with a very Renaissance art-style, with dramatic light coming through a cloud-burst and with patches of light hitting the debris and baby.’ For his second image (below) he used the baby again, but this time positioned in the centre of a disturbingly huge, litter-strewn eye – an image that required detailed examination of the human eye before shooting began.

web Karl Taylor PlasticPollution2(Image: Karl Taylor)

The rubbish collected for both of these images was drawn to the Guernsey shore following weeks of heavy storms over the Atlantic. But its sheer volume and variety – from plastic bottles to fishing gear, shoes to medical equipment – is indicative of a much wider problem. Scientists now estimate that of the 380 million tons of plastic generated globally each year, eight million tons enters our oceans and 80 per cent of that originates from land-based sources such as rivers. It’s vital that humans start to combat this tide and Taylor hopes that his photo will become part of the impetus to do so.

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