Most of us prefer to discard our plastic bags after they have served our purpose and forget them forever but for Los Angeles-based Naomi White – a photographer and educator – these indispensable yet easily overlooked components of our consumerist societies are great sources of artistic inspiration.
She has used them – thin and transparent and crushed – in many of her projects. These unremarkable holders and carriers of goods become symbols of our myriad needs and wants – from food and fabrics to toiletries and technology. They also turn into icons of our greed and irresponsibility. Sometimes they acquire a romantic flavour, changing into something natural and harmless, even sublime. Naomi’s work, on the whole, is a visual commentary on a world that is obsessed with material well-being.
In her series “Competing Desires”, Naomi forms chaotic clusters of packets, many with brands names and logos still on them. “Plastic waste – the remains of consumerist urges – reflects both the world we live in and its influence on us,” says the artist. “In these sculptures, I use my own plastic packaging as material. Photographs, particularly advertisements, create desire. Plastic packaging works in a similar way to seduce us. Packaging is like the proof of consumerism, proof that the advertisements were effective. Aware of this similarity between photographs and plastic, and of my competing desires to both consume and protect the planet, I explore the trappings of consumerism through the reflecting pool of plastic waste.”
Other notable projects are “Traces of the Real” and “Plastic Currents”. In the first, outer space is imagined as a desolate, timeless and unspoiled place. But the region around Earth is shown as filled with thousands of pieces of human-built debris. The series casts sculptures made from plastic waste as new celestial bodies in the universe by throwing or hoisting them into the air and photographing them against the night sky. “Juxtaposing the trappings of consumerism with the natural world, against the vastness of the Universe,” writes Naomi, “this work explores the human impact on our planet and its future.”
In “Plastic Currents”, the everyday plastic bag is transformed by light, it is turned from something familiar into something strange. “Undulating and fluid these forms transition from non-biodegradable, reviled plastic bags into seemingly organic forms,” continues the artist, “imitating the very nature they threaten. I am interested in the way plastic responds to touch, its surface, its weight, how it clings to lighter elements like lint and dirt through static electricity, and the way each bag is its own marvel. By isolating plastic bags, icons of waste and convenience, we are asked to consider our role in their effects, but also to question the transformative power of the photograph and its ability to reconcile a simple bag into something other worldly, full of possibilities.” At this point, film lovers will surely remember the “Dancing Bag” scene from American Beauty (1999).
Naomi obtained a BA in English Literature from San Francisco State University in 1994. This was followed by a Post Baccalaureate in Photography from San Francisco Art Institute (1998) and an MFA in Photography and Related Media from the School of Visual Arts in New York (2000). Her works have been exhibited across the US in Los Angeles, New York, Miami and Portland and also abroad in London. They are held in several public and private collections.
Links: Website (www.naomiwhite.com) | Saatchi Art (www.saatchiart.com/naomiwhite) | Twitter (@nycnaomi) | Facebook (www.facebook.com/Naomi-White-Photography-487868631253047) | Instagram (www.instagram.com/naomiwhitevisualartist)
Images used with permission.