Whiter-than-white: threads of conspiracy

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This is the control. A pristine section of snow that can be used as a reference to compare the other images

This is the control. A pristine section of snow that can be used as a reference to compare the other images

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My hope is that this work will highlight the casual and very unnecessary ways in which we pollute our environment and how we seem to be content to live within in a ubiquitous miasma of chemical deception.  Because we are drawn to the bright and the white, many of the commodities of our daily lives are manufactured to artificially express these properties and in particular, to make these look cleaner or newer than they actually are. As a consequence of this, much of what we make or own contains synthetic compounds called optical brighteners.  These chemical agents work by fluorescing, that is by absorbing natural (from the sun) or artificial (from standard lighting) ultraviolet light and converting it into other colours of visible blue light, to make objects appear whiter and brighter than they otherwise are. Optical brighteners are thus commonly found in our clothes, washing powders, paper, plastics, and paints.  These compounds are very simple to detect because they fluoresce (emit various colours of light) when they exposed to ultraviolet light. With this in mind, I travelled to Swedish Lapland to an apparently pristine environment 200km north of the Arctic Circle and used an ultraviolet torch to search the snow and ice for traces of pollution. The images above are what I found. Small threads of textiles or fragments of plastics or paper, normally invisible, but revealed here by the presence of the fluorescence caused by optical brighteners that they contain. I was really struck by the frequency at which I found these glowing specks of pollution in what should be a relatively pure environment. It’s a depressing thought that wherever we go, and beyond, we unwittingly leak chemical pollutants, designed merely to satisfy our vanity, into the natural world around us.

1 thought on “Whiter-than-white: threads of conspiracy

  1. How sad, especially when it’s all so unnecessary. I try to buy Eco friendly cleaning products and recycle what I can, but so much plastic packaging still can’t be recycled.

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