Student's Journey Across Africa to Capture Plastic Pollution

Tuesday 23 May 2017
RAW Foundation, 2015-2016 © Alexander Mourant.

We chat to third year Photography student Alexander Mourant about how he is helping to document the work of the Raw Foundation to educate about plastic pollution. 

Can you tell us a bit about the RAW: In Africa project?

The project was created by Melinda Watson, founder/director of RAW Foundation. The foundation aims to challenge and educate a global audience about plastic pollution. Leading a world first expedition, we set off to track the plastic footprint down the length of Africa - from Cairo to Cape Town. The aim was to shine a spotlight on the sheer scale of the problem and to demonstrate the transboundary nature of plastic pollution.

Why did you get involved?

After being introduced to and discussing the project with Melinda Watson, I was invited to join the Africa journey as a photographer. This was an incredible opportunity; however a decision I didn't take lightly as accepting the project meant deferring a year of my degree. My curiosity and the epic scale of the journey was something too intriguing to miss, especially being a photographer. Furthermore, I was keen to be involved with a group of individuals striving to create change.

Can you tell us about your role and what you captured?

Over the five month period we travelled in a 4x4 documenting plastic litter, wastelands, rivers, lakes, beach pollution, individuals and communities. We explored quite extensively; Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa.

I was photographing crucial moments, stories and aspects of the journey which were then conveyed to our growing audience on social media channels. Personally, I also wrote in-depth articles for Gallery Magazine and PhotoVoice. We did this work alongside day-to-day living, camping in the bush, collecting firewood etc. It was very intensive and exhausting at times. But through the experience of becoming less materialistic came a clarity of vision.

How has this experience influenced you and your work?

This project has forever influenced my way of viewing the world. En route, I continually consumed books, informed by literature; Thoreau, Bach, Conrad, Blixen, Gallmann and Hemingway. All of these authors engaged and helped me contemplate the ever shifting cultural and geographical landscape we encountered. Since returning from Africa, it is thoroughly curious to witness my shifting interests as a practitioner; most notably, my disinterest in producing documentarian type imagery.

My current work acts as an abstract response to experience, mainly drawing from my time in Africa. In a sense, each photograph and sculptural piece is autobiographical, helping to decode the fabric of space, essentially how 'here' and 'there' is in a perpetual dialogue. The work can be seen as an initial investigation into the metaphysical potential of photography. I find this aspect of photography very fascinating.

What was the most inspiring thing about the trip?

I think the most inspiring aspect was the realisation of how diverse our planet is. But crucially, how the environment is genuinely threatened.

You graduate this summer, what is next for you?

Over the next few weeks myself and artist Andy Hughes MA RCA are exhibiting in a duo show for RAW Foundation at the Royal Geographical Society in London from 24 May to 14 June. I'll be showing on a grand scale some of the highlights from our African journey. The exhibition will have a VIP opening called RAW Talks: Plastic on 31 May. We have secured some high profile speakers including actor Jeremy Irons, Julia Hailes MBE and Melinda Watson.

Next, I'll be exhibiting at Free Range with the rest of my very talented cohort from BRIK Collective at our graduate event, held at Truman Brewery from 22 to 26 June. Also, I'm excited to say I've had some work from my new series selected by Bruce McLean to be exhibited at CCA Galleries International Summer Show 2017.

In August, I plan to travel to Japan to produce a new body of work which will thoroughly examine the conceptual hypothesis I've been working on this year at Falmouth.

How can people find out more about the RAW: In Africa project? 

We're encouraging everyone to come along to our exhibition and VIP RAW Talks event! The exhibition is free. Tickets are available on Eventbrite for the RAW Talks evening. All proceeds will support the RAW Foundation.