Karola Jansen – Un Natural Species

Review by Douglas Stockdale

Ubiquitous. The use of plastic is everywhere and has become a classic double-edged sword. Its properties enable food and beverages to last longer, while its inherent chemical structure allow it to last almost forever. While many plastics can be recycled, getting the used plastic containers to the proper destinations for recycling has been problematic. Then there is the ‘free-range’ plastic that has broken free, no longer domesticated, that has become even more problematic, essentially creating an environmental plague. The ubiquitous nature of free-range and un-natural plastic is the subject of Karola Jansen’s recently released and self-published photobook Un Natural Species.

If plastic litter is so common in our urban and natural landscapes, then why is this book necessary? I suspect Jansen is concerned that we have had a subtle shift in the environmental perception that this ‘unnatural’ element has over time become an accepted part of ‘nature.’ Jansen has highlighted its presence as a call to action by focusing on the free-range plastic that is unadorned and proliferated throughout the natural and urban landscape. 

Her book slows down the act of looking while providing visual evidence that forces us to see what is right before our eyes. This is a subtle book that does not repel the senses, as might the overwhelming appearance of the huge islands of plastic trash in the midst of our oceans. Nevertheless, she predominately photographs the found free-range plastic remnants in a variety of natural and urban landscape settings to place further emphasis on the un-naturalism of its appearance presence, no matter how interesting the composition may first appear. The photograph of plastic waste floating on water, second to last photograph below, provides a wonderful metaphor for the larger environmental disaster that is lurking unseen off our shores.

Her photographs create a sense that by controlling these small bits of free-range plastic is something manageable. We can take personal responsibility for it by looking for someplace appropriate to place items for recycling, or having the presence of mind to wait until the proper bin is available. 

The full life-cycle packaging material mandates in Europe require packaging materials, such as plastic bags, cartons and boxes, to be fabricated in a way that allows them to be properly disposed of or recycled at the end of the day. A manufacturer needs to minimize packaging waste and use easily recyclable materials, such as paper pulp trays in lieu of plastic trays, to secure objects during distribution.

In America, it’s frequently a one-way street for plastic packaging: produce whatever it is without any responsibility or regard for what happens after its use. That is somebody else’s worry. Fortunately, that mindset is beginning to shift. California, for example, has adopted mandates and passed laws to replace disposable plastic bags with sturdy reusable shopping bags, and plastic straws with degradable paper straws. Certain California counties also make available plastic waste bins for recycling on trash day (or requires residents to sort recycling into separate plastic bins for pickup).

Jansen wants the reader to reflect on the impact of one’s actions. Those floating bits of free-range plastic that one sees did not get there by accident; somebody inadvertently or purposefully let them loose. This body of work reminds us it is time to rein in the free-range plastic and for each individual to do their part.

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Jansen’s book has been recently awarded a winning placement in the 2020 Prix de la Photographie de Paris.

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Un Natural Species, Karola Jansen

Photographer: Karola Jansen, born Wageningen, the Netherlands and currently resides in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Self-published, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, copyright 2020

Text: English

Stiff covers with printed plastic dust jacket (Multi Art Silk) and Swiss binding, accompanied with a loose, color print. 80 pages. Book printed by Zwaan Lenoir Schuring, Wormerveer, and binding by Patist, Den Dolder, the Netherlands. ISBN: 978-90-830463-0-3

Photobook Designer: Studio Suze Swarte

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Articles and photographs published on PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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