We Plastic

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

Featured Image: Ceaseless no. 1, 24×24 inches

by Guest Blogger Doug Fogelson

Surrounded by ghosts spinning and whirling
we gyre
the emulsion bath of flavors and cloud degrees
lift and bob

Excited like a proton in a microwave
sizzling hot from the inside out
the seed that was engineered to sprout
percolates under steroid soil

Cooled in the Freon
Covered by the rayon
Colored like a crayon
Culvert in a canyon

A synthetic erection
floating puff of Styrofoam on a bauble of warm air
like a brain tazed under Ketamine
We Plastic.


The industrial building in downtown Chicago that houses my studio is sandwiched between a catering company and a garbage sorting facility, however my work takes me far outside urban confines. Both allow me to pass between and through landscapes that are familiar, unfamiliar, and almost alien. Experiencing these discrete spaces, with the interplay of varying sensory inputs they offer, juggling thoughts and camera controls, engages something within me. This is the first stage in the art making process.

Lately I’ve been thinking about a synthesis of the “artificial” with what we normally consider natural. In the grandest sense this is called Anthropocene, the impact of the totality of human inputs on the planetary system, and in the smallest it is drinking a glass of water from a warm plastic bottle. Every day, my mental list, forever running in the background like a data algorithm monitoring internet searches, pulls in more and more examples: biologic medicines, surgical implants, facial recognition software, Siri, genomics, Wi-Fi radiation, and on and on.

Ceaseless no. 2, 24x24 inches

Ceaseless no. 2, 24×24 inches

Stage two is returning to my room, and the processed latent images. The camera machine and the plastic film base support the cache of colors suspended in layered emulsion I see glowing on the milky surface of a light box. Time is relative and the memories of travel fades so quickly, some of which are now jogged back into view from photographic neural stimulation. Time can be layered over multiple exposures I shoot along the filmstrip so that spaces overlap and become somewhat abstracted under bands of framed edges. Film material is the embodiment of another synthesis, one of natural and artificial elements combined in just the right way to perform magic, the collaboration of humans with physics and chemistry. Even the black leader of unexposed film contains the potential for recording and this excites me to the point of a fetish.

We don’t consciously choose to be in the alive in a specific era. This writing finds me at mid life and this shifting world is something I have to accept somehow, endeavor to change, or worry over. I was born in 1970, the year of the first Earth Day. In that time the situation has gone from bad to worse. So much could have been accomplished to help future generations that it boggles the mind. My son is 10 years old now, what will he face by mid century?

Creative Destruction no 2

Creative Destruction no. 2, 30×34-5 inches

Phase three of the art making process begins when I put on a respirator, safety glasses, and latex gloves. My full color film is at hand along with a collection of spray bottles and bowls containing chemicals purchased at the local hardware or grocery. I spray, soak, dip my precious memory stimulating material in this toxic bath to abstract the image surface— echoing the large-scale impact of waste and pollution in our land, air, and sea. Eroding the surface of the signifier my film’s emulsion begins to melt in a succession of acrid dyes; first the yellow, then the magenta, finally the cyan layer in light and dark until only the clear plastic base is left. Emulsions break apart, waving in the liquid chemicals like ribbons or tattered flags.

What if we could accept that we are hybrids, that a future of beauty and balance will invariably involve stripping something away, adding something not yet imagined? To what end will we see ourselves go in climate engineering? Will we add to the growing list of feedback loops already in play? I never thought I would entertain geoengineering, but I suspect once the melted permafrost and resulting methane release is uncorked I will give it serious consideration.

Creative Destruction no. 6, 30x42-5 inches

Creative Destruction no. 6, 30×42-5 inches

The fourth stage of production comes when the soupy film dries down, fixing its abstraction into place. Residue from the silver halide and chemistry form small crystals in some areas and in others leave a patina of shapes resembling snowflakes or veins. Bubbles can dry and be captured flat. The layered film at times doubles the remaining imagery and often looks like the red/blue of a vintage 3-D image (seen from goofy glasses). Collaborating with invisible forces of change and chance the final image is one of arrested slippage. To my mind these can hint at the struggle for sunlight and the phases of earthly circulation.

What I do, where I go, flying high above earth’s surface, bumping along with ozone in the stratosphere, I help push our event horizon ever closer even as I fear it’s approach. The blue veil breaks apart the cocoon contrails continuously wrapping it up. Here, each of us is offered an incredible vantage point, an opportunity to gain perspective and yet, so many of us choose to distract ourselves with screen upon screen, updating an invisible taskmaster even thinner than air itself, high on our sugar/insulin spikes. We are simple creatures only requiring food and drink, elimination, rest, and breathing. To accept the time we inhabit and the state of the world right now is to know we are not only our body, the planet is not only our host.

Return to Oblivion no. 8, 30x40

Return to Oblivion no. 8, 30×40

The final stage of my art making process is the high-resolution scan of the altered film. Once it has been digitized I can zoom in and out on my computer screen to see the details. The scanner is like a microscope, I feel like an adventurer and fledgling scientist as well as an artist/photographer. At times I am repulsed by the remaining hues of the film, missing the color range of the original or disliking the acid tones laid bare in the process. The tension of interplay between representation and abstraction, or simply the abstraction alone, is ultimately the reward. I print the images via thermal pigment dropped onto ink jet paper to exhibit as editions. And I accept what may have been lost, to processes and decisions made along the way, along with that which is left in its place.


Doug Fogelson studied at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Columbia College Chicago. His photographic works are included in collections at The J. Paul Getty Center, The Museum of Contemporary Photography, The Cleveland Clinic, and have been exhibited at the Chicago Cultural Center, Walker Art Center, Sasha Wolf Gallery, Linda Warren Projects, Marlborough Chelsea, and Museum Belvedere, Netherlands. Fogelson founded Front Forty Press and has taught photography at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Doug Fogelson is represented by Sasha Wolf Gallery in NYC.


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Filed under: Guest Blog Series, Photography


Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

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