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Photographer Meredith shows the true cost of modern living

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Meredith Andrews (Photograph by Brandon Morrison)

Meredith Andrews recognises that passion can sometimes come across as preachy.

So instead of banging on about environmentalism, she sorted through the piles and piles of plastic she collected from Bermuda's beaches over the years and transformed them into art.

On display at the Bermuda National Gallery is Flotsam and Jetsam: The Cost of Modern Living, nine images of found trash that the artist "elevated" into "luxe", "expensive", "sumptuous" photographs.

That they exist is the result of "a happy accident" seven years ago.

"I started going on walks very often on the beach and I immediately noticed how much more plastic there was," Ms Andrews said.

With the knowledge that plastic never fully breaks down she initially picked up whatever she found, took it home and dumped it in the garbage. About a month in, she came across "a toy, or something really kind of interesting".

It became the first piece in what is now an extensive collection. About 20 per cent of everything she finds is washed, sorted by colour and texture and stored in her garage. The rest goes in the trash.

Flotsam and Jetsam: The Cost of Modern Living, an exhibit by Meredith Andrews now on display at the Bermuda National Gallery (Photograph by Brandon Morrison)

Flotsam and Jetsam was produced "to celebrate the launch of a public consultation process on the proposed ban of single-use plastics by the Bermuda Government".

"It's obviously such a big issue so in a weird way it was kind of like kismet in the timing of me creating this work."

As someone who loves "vintage and second-hand" as well as the look of "things that are worn and have a patina", she appreciates "beauty in the breakdown and [believes] the plastic lends itself so well to that".

"I [also] like that worn feeling even though it's quite tragic where a fish has clearly bitten the plastic or there's starting to be barnacles and things growing on it."

Ms Andrews partnered with KBB on the project, grateful for a chance to give back to an organisation that has "always been a really great support".

"I've always respected their subtle approach. They do a good job of saying, 'This is how people actually live in Bermuda' [as opposed to some] organisations that can be holier than thou about it.

"We're living in this world and we're trying to come up with solutions. But I guess with KBB I've always felt they are realistic about what's going on in Bermuda and they are trying to communicate how we can all do better."

What also impressed her was that the organisation pulled in so many different facets of the community: corporations, families and sporting groups.

"And they have always been a great support to me and so when the BNG and I decided to do this show it was kind of immediate: let's include Keep Bermuda Beautiful.

"In a way they're the guardians of the nation. To be perfectly honest, I like creating this work and I think it's very important but I feel like this work, unlike some other projects I've done, it's almost like a community service project. And so I definitely wanted to bring in an organisation that would benefit from it."

Some of the garbage found over the past seven years by photographer Meredith Andrews

As for the litter itself, Ms Andrews does not feel that Bermuda is to blame.

"There are some litterbugs but I myself try not to be holier than thou about it because I'm living in the world, I'm driving my car, I'm wearing plastic, I'm consuming it. But most of what I'm collecting and the material that I'm working with, it's not domestic."

Forty per cent of the garbage she finds is from the fishing industry, the photographer believes.

"Bermuda sits in a gyre of plastic. Plastic is coming up from Central America, North America, South America and there's all sorts of fishing vessels in that.

"There is likely to be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050," said Ms Andrews, who in 2020 was awarded the Queen’s Certificate and Badge of Honour for services to the environment. "Fishermen are not thinking 30 years from now, they're thinking right now – how can we get the most money? It's great that [the government is] taking some steps.“

Balls, one of the photographs by Meredith Andrews now on exhibit at the Bermuda National Gallery

The photographs took about three weeks to shoot. Ms Andrews is grateful for the "absolutely beautiful" prints on display thanks to Loris Toppan at ColourLab Bermuda, and Keely Horsfall of Frameworks as well as the artistic assistance she received from Moss, Dion and Brandon Morrison.

"But I can't speak highly enough of Peter and Eve [of the BNG]. They have been fantastic to work with; they really took care of me whereas often – particularly in Bermuda – you're doing a show, you're very much on your own."

The nine prints on exhibit measure 35 by 28 inches. Three copies of each are available for sale, "basically one of the first times the gallery has ever sold work".

"We also have done a run of 20 prints that are a bit smaller and a bit more affordable. Those are 16 x 20 and they're $250 each. The funds from all print sales are split between the gallery, KBB and myself."

Public reception has been "fantastic". It helped that people were already familiar with the ocean plastics series the artist has posted as an Advent calendar for the last three years.

"People started following me for that but because this work is all new because I was trying to create this slightly more luxe elevated view of this trash, kind of a slightly different positioning of it. This is more fine art. I created it with the exhibition in mind and the exhibition space. It's not a huge space and they're quite big prints. I really wanted that. I love the idea that when you're in the room you're sort of enveloped in all the plastic.

"The patterns, the collages it kind of comes to me as I'm working with them. I've done toothbrushes before but never looking like this. From a creative perspective I wanted them to look very man-made, very pattern-made. I wasn’t necessarily relying on a colour gradient to make them aesthetically pleasing; I wanted each one to have its own pattern or special distinct thing."

For more information: bng.bm/exhibitions/flotsam-and-jetsam; meredithandrewsphotography.com. Follow @meredithphoto on Instagram

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Published November 29, 2021 at 8:01 am (Updated November 29, 2021 at 1:20 pm)

Photographer Meredith shows the true cost of modern living

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