Didn’t We Have A Lovely Time – The Photographers’ Gallery 2014

The Photographers’ Gallery, London
11 July – 31 August 2014
Simon Roberts, Mike Perry, Luke Stephenson, John Hinde, Nicolas Hughes

Flip Flops and Shoes Grid x 14, Môr Plastig, Wales 2014

For his show at The Photographers’ Gallery, Perry has chosen 10 washed up Flip Flops and Shoes from his series Môr Plastig. Môr Plastig, welsh for Plastic Sea, is study of plastic detritus washed up on the coast of West Wales and beyond.

At a glance, the shape and size could be familiar, the texture and colour offer a displaced sense of beauty. There is a personal, environmental and aesthetic quality to these objects, which raises more questions than answers. The human stories and the impending environmental impacts soon become more prominent in our thoughts.

On closer inspection, there appears to be something else to absorb, in these highly detailed and forensically photographed objects. The degrading effect of the sea has created extraordinary forms and surfaces. Are we allowed to enjoy nature’s continuous eroding process and the painterly effects caused by the interaction of sun, sea and sand? The repetitive presentation also provides a rhythm of colour and form and allows relationships to develop between the individual specimens.

To achieve these images Perry has used a very high-resolution digital camera. He shoots in neutral daylight avoiding strong shadows and dramatic lighting. His intention is to show the objects as they are, allowing the viewer to bring their own interpretations and thoughts to the viewing experience. This is clearly very different to much environmental photography, which uses strong emotionally charged images to document the effects of pollution and climate change. Clearly, this approach leads to a paradox in that the shoes have become both aesthetically appealing objects and yet dangerous pollutants at the same time. Perry uses this ambiguity to make us think about what’s going on.

Whilst the sheer number of shoes is a reminder of the ubiquity of plastic on our beaches, it is also a barometer of the infinite choice now offered by our global consumerist world. Sandals come in every size, shape and colour. No two shoes are the same and they now frequent every beach on the planet from West Wales to Eastern China. These products don’t need global logistic companies to transport them from market to market, the worlds ocean currents do it for them. Perry has found Russian sandals on his Pembrokeshire beach and British Flip Flops on the beaches of East Africa.

For as long as we can remember, artists have been interested in collecting and sifting through the trash society leaves behind. Perry is motivated by giving these remains a status and attention they wouldn’t normally assume. He wants people to share ‘a strange knowledge’ and spend a little time looking at things that they would normally walk past and ignore as rubbish. This collection of extruded polymers offers something more than an array of colour, form and extraordinary surface details or a worrying warning of looming environmental disaster. It is perhaps, most of all, a powerful reminder of the power of nature. Not as a creator of sublime epic landscapes or breathtaking natural disasters, but as a moulder and sculptor of all things, however large or small, living or synthetic. Looking at this body of work one must surely conclude that nature is the ultimate designer.

(Taken from ICIA Exhibition Catalogue, Flip Flops and Shoes 2013 by Lindsay Hughes).

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