#DeathbyPlastic is a new photo and video campaign by Bangkok-based Norwegian photographer Ben Zander that's aimed squarely at reducing plastic waste by changing prevailing attitudes and habits. Best known locally as a fashion photographer, Zander is calling on influential figures to pose in front of various disturbingly real waste sites—complete with plastic bag over their head.
Together with charity crowdfunding site Weeboon, he's looking to raise B400,000 to fund 10 of these photoshoots, with big names already on board including muay Thai legend Buakaw Banchamek, MC Dandee Supwattana (Bangkok Invaders) and model Penny J. Lane (The Face Thailand). Eventually, these photos will be exhibited and auctioned off, with proceeds put towards the lofty goal of replacing 7-Eleven's plastic bags with paper ones. Zander told BK a little more about the project.
What drew you to tackle a subject like plastic waste?
I am also a sociologist and author. For a while photography was a much needed break from words and politics, but I guess in the end, sociology forced its way back, this time though with photography as the medium. With #DeathbyPlastic, I had been contemplating photographing human heads wrapped in plastic just as an artistic concept. At the same time, all the plastic thrown at me in different shops—Big C, 7-Eleven—really started to annoy me. I decided to look into what the situation with plastic waste was in Thailand, as I suspected it was really bad. And it was.
What do you ultimately hope to achieve with #DeathbyPlastic?
Raise awareness and change behavior among Thai consumers. If someone throws away plastic waste in Western Europe, where I am from, chances are the person just doesn't care, because awareness about the destructiveness of plastic waste is already quite high. In Thailand it's different. My impression is that Thais care very much about their country, people and animals. But environmental awareness is very low. I keep thinking about this Facebook video filmed by a proud daughter, eager to show how kind her mother was, driving to the suburbs of Bangkok to feed stray dogs. And then, after feeding the dogs, throwing the plastic bags the carried the food in, on the ground, together with the other plastic waste there. Both generations were completely oblivious to the fact that this was damaging to the environment, people and animals. Middle-class people with good hearts and good morals. If they knew, they would not do this.
You’re shooting a bunch of well-known public figures. How were you able to get them involved?
Some I knew, some my friends knew. Getting them involved was more a question of explaining the project. Using influencers is a well-proven strategy in commercial advertising. For most of them, a realistic chance to use their social media power to do something good for the environment and others is refreshing, and payment enough. I would never ask anyone to waste their time or money.
How did you select the shoot locations?
The goal is to go to different locations that show different parts of the bigger story of plastic waste in Thailand. The shoot with MC Dandee outside CP's flagship 7-Eleven store is about consumption and everyday choices. The shoot with Buakaw Banchamek is about illegal dumping in our own neighborhoods. In this case we only needed to go 400 meters from Buakaw's gym in Nawamin to find an illegal dumpsite. Penny J. Lane's shoot by the khlong shows how land-based plastic waste is connected to the oceans. Right now we have funding enough for a fourth shoot, but the location is not set yet.
What’s the reaction been to your campaign so far, both from your photo subjects and your audience?
It has been overwhelmingly positive, and as far as I know, a very positive experience for everyone involved in the project. The content seems to touch people, Thais and foreigners alike. I just wish we had funding to push the content further on social media. The first video has been shared more than 800 times and altogether we have passed 300,000 views already.