Washed-Up Artwork: Bright Rainbows of Beached Trash

The general consensus regarding garbage is that it is, by definition, ugly – and nature is unquestionably more beautiful. But photographer Alejandro Duran finds a beautiful intersection of the two in his photo series “Washed Up,” in which the garbage of the world makes a poignant and strangely beautiful statement about our consumerism.

Sian Ka’an is Mexico’s largest federally-protected biosphere preserve. Located south of Cancun on the Caribbean coast of Mexico, the shores of Sian Ka’an are covered in detritus from around the world. Due to the ocean currents that meet in the location, debris from every point on the planet make their way to the beach of this ecological research and education center.

It may seem like a cruel joke of nature that this ecological center should be plagued by such garbage, but Alejandro Duran uses the refuse to create truly memorable scenes in his photography series called Washed Up. He arranges the garbage by color in distinctly natural-looking arrangements. His site-specific sculptures suggest wave-carried garbage that has settled into place thanks to the natural movement of the water.

While breathtakingly beautiful, the sculptures are incredibly sad as well. Duran has identified garbage on this shore from 42 countries on six continents. The “out of sight, out of mind” effect that makes so many of us ambivalent about waste management is abruptly lost here. There is no ignoring the blatant consumerism and throw-away culture that has caused this massive build-up of human debris.

In addition to his sadly lovely sculptures, Duran takes portraits of individual items that have washed up from nearly every part of the world. Lovingly documented as though they were rare seashells, the bottles and jars captured by Duran’s camera are not necessarily painted in a negative light. Duran photographs them in an almost tender way, presenting these items from all around the globe as objects of interest.

The obvious sadness of this photo series is somewhat tempered by Duran’s choice to document the shameful build-up of garbage in an artistic manner. He arranges the washed-up objects in precisely the way that lapping waves would arrange them, almost suggesting that the ocean itself has carefully selected the collections by color and placed them on the beach for our perusal.


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