Artists for the Earth
Benjamin Von Wong tackles pollution with photography and fantasy
May 20, 2020
Canadian artist and photographer Benjamin Von Wong hasn’t always created striking, unforgettable images made of recyclables. He started photographing stars as a hobby — something small to take his mind off of his work as a mining engineer.
Almost a decade later, his portfolio includes work for companies like Nike, Nikon and Dell. In time, his goals shifted. Now, he only takes on jobs with significant social or environmental impact.
“I needed to give back more tangibly,” he said. “I like to call myself a pollinator. I float between worlds, I care about everything. We live in a system where you don’t tackle one thing without tackling another. You can’t tackle plastics in the ocean without talking about poverty. You can’t tackle deforestation without talking about agriculture.”
Von Wong has tackled some of the world’s most pressing environmental issues through his photography. To draw attention to fashion pollution, he built the world’s tallest closet — showing how many clothes one person wears in a lifetime. He has also highlighted plastic pollution and e-waste. Most, if not all, of his impact projects urge onlookers to reflect on their personal consumption habits.
Von Wong was hesitant to name his “favorite” project, but he’s most proud of #Mermaidshateplastic, where a mermaid drowns in 10,000 plastic bottles. It has over 37 million organic views on Facebook and was recently featured on a United Nations Earth Day stamp.
Scientists predict that there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050. Huge strides have been made in reducing plastic pollution worldwide, but coronavirus is changing that. Plastic waste is booming during the pandemic and cities are rolling back bans on single-use plastics for fear of the virus sticking to reusables.
During coronavirus, many people may forget about our other global crisis: climate change.
Unforgettable Labs, which Von Wong started to keep track of his impact, reminds us of the destruction we can have, and continue to have, on our environment.
Von Wong’s Change.org petition tied to the mermaid project garnered more than 16,000 pledges to reduce plastic consumption. His closet installation donated 6,000 clothes to Refuge Egypt. And the 168,000 straws from “Strawpocolypse” were ground into concrete, to save them from ending up in a landfill.
Since the pandemic has Von Wong stuck at home, he’s exploring other ways to inspire social and environmental action. He began a podcast, Impact Everywhere, to encourage meaningful conversations despite the physical distance between us.
“I think the secret to moving forward is to have everyone integrate impact into their daily lives,” Von Wong said. “How do they show up in service to the world? How do they show up in service of their community and themselves all at the same time?”
In this week’s episode, he spoke with photographer and documentary film director, Louie Psihoyos, who directed important environmental documentaries like The Game Changers, Racing Extinction and The Cove.
Through it all, Von Wong hopes to foster a community.
“Don’t try to do everything alone,” he said. “When you find a community that you can grow with, you’ll feel a lot less lonely and learn a lot faster.”
Art is central to social movements, unifying people behind a common cause. Art can also make the daunting subjects of climate change and plastic pollution more personal and accessible.
To learn more about art’s role in the environmental movement, register as an Artist for the Earth.
Photo credit for image at top: #Strawpocolypse, vonwong.com