Approach One: Photographic Stories
The experiments in this approach explored how to present and communicate the warped materiality of the plastics in order to encourage and inspire ecological thought about plastic consumption. What was revealed in these experiments, however, was that the visual ‘image’ of these plastics was somewhat limiting, and did not guarantee automatic shifts towards ecological thought. I found myself wanting to attribute more meaning to these representations of the plastic, and this highlighted that the image of these plastics alone was not enough to create shifts in perception about plastic’s disposability. What was needed was an additional lens and interpretation of these warped plastics to more strongly facilitate and guide consumers towards ecological reflection specifically. It was thus the process of creating these photographs, rather than the outcomes, that proved most insightful and added to my knowledge of how to communicate these warped plastics to others.
This process of photography facilitated new ways of approaching and seeing the plastics. Specifically, it was processes of close engagement with the plastics—of handling, observing and describing them—that shifted my perspective to realise the abundance of their materiality. Their liveliness and deep entanglement with the nonhuman environment became further reiterated through this process. This beautified the plastics, and although I recognise that this beautification and fetishisation can be counter-intuitive for dissuading plastic use, it did encourage and stimulate further exploration, curiosity and engagement with the plastics. It made me receptive to wanting to explore and think through plastics further.
Acts of handling, observing and describing therefore disrupted my perceptions of plastic as ‘waste’ and introduced tangible understandings of their ‘thingness’ (Bennett, 2010) in their live materiality. Engaging and interacting with the plastics is thus vital in beginning to shift perceptions about plastic. This realisation informed the continued use of observation and description in later experiments, and particularly shaped the nature of the prompts in the participatory design workshops.
The experiments in this approach also highlighted that my choice of posters and books as outcomes reduced the materiality of these plastics to a flat image, and I questioned whether they would be effective in evoking response from consumers. The reliance on these types of outcomes reflected my understandings at this point of how designers could contribute to the issue of plastic, which was to visually communicate and present discoveries in order to raise awareness. It also reflected my understandings of what constituted as ‘research’ in general; finding objectively ‘true’ information and presenting it to consumers. Recognising the limitations of my own approach to practice, the next approach sought to break out of these habits by considering more material and three-dimensional ways of communicating.