For my ongoing project Poseidon’s Bequest, I photograph cargo ships from the water’s surface, floating in the sea beside them. In the waves the ships command attention, towering above like skyscrapers, their forms biomorphic and awe-inspiring.
In Greek mythology, Poseidon was the god of the sea and the protector of seafarers, and he lived in coral riches on the ocean floor. And yet he was destructive too, striking the ground with his trident to cause earthquakes, and erratic springs that eroded rocks and land. Poseidon’s gifts were both and compelling and dangerous.
The carriers bring us 90% of almost everything we buy: clothing, food, cars, fuel, raw materials and electronics. On a large scale these items move global economies. In our own lives such objects are mundane yet essential, and increasingly affordable given our era’s conditions of mass production and resource extraction, liberalised trade and overseas wages. Low-cost, low-end fossil fuel powers the ships, further warming the atmosphere and contributing to climate change. The Port of Vancouver is the third largest in the Americas and hosts 3,160 vessels each year, or about nine of these ships per day.
Our human species is unique in our abilities to think abstractly, and to hold in our minds simultaneously two conflicting ideas. For instance, we can appreciate art and visually arresting marine design, and we live within mass systems that have altered our planet’s components irrevocably. How can these cargo ships be both magnificent vessels and destructive forces? How can the building of these great hulls be improved to create a green industry?
The Anthropocene – our current geologic era defined by human’s massive altering of the earth’s systems. By naming and visualising it, we identify the significance of our role now in what’s changed, but also in what can change for the better.
Artists Torrie Groening and Sally Buck check the details of a giant print from the Poseidon’s Bequest series.