The Plastic Soup Photo Essay Pictures

Argument in Photo Essays

If you’re building your first photo essay, get ready for an exciting challenge. A photo essay is essentially a story—or in this case, an argument—that is made through mainly images instead of text.

When you build an argumentative photo essay, just as with any other essay, you’re going think about what your main argument is and what kind of evidence you’ll use to support your claims. In the case of a photo essay, your evidence comes through visually, in pictures.

For example, let’s say you want to create a photo essay about people who live with food insecurity in your area. You would want to take pictures of people who deal with food insecurity, perhaps take pictures of their pantries and refrigerators. These pictures could be extremely powerful and persuasive. The appeals to pathos would be strong and moving.

Of course, you should be sure to get permission before you take anyone’s pictures, but photo essays can be a wonderful opportunity to express your creativity and make your argument in a powerful manner.

Sometimes, seeing an example is the best way to get started with a new project. The video below shows a sample student photo essay on the dangers of plastic. Notice the powerful argument the student is able to make by using images and very little text.

Saavedra, S. (2010, April 18). The plastic soup photo essay. [Video file]. Retrieved from

As photographer Jacques de Lannoy stood on an empty beach last year in Okinawa, Japan, he almost failed to notice a heap of plastic bottles that had washed up on the shore.

"Discarded plastic has become such a common sight on Asia’s beaches that the absence of it would have been noteworthy," de Lannoy said in a statement.

The Tokyo-based photographer recently traveled to India where the issue of plastic pollution is especially dire. There, de Lannoy snapped shocking images of piles of plastic garbage swallowing the South Asian country's landscape, waterways and coastlines.

Lightweight, malleable, versatile, durable and affordable, plastic is becoming the defining material of the modern world.

"Plastics offer the dream of a perfect, convenient, shrink-wrapped world," he said. "But that dream quickly turns into a nightmare in a one-use, throw-away consumption system."

According to a 2016 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation titled "The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastics," just 14 percent of plastic products are recycled globally. The buildup of plastic waste in the environment is particularly visible in developing nations like India, where de Lannoy said plastic pollution has become a "cumulative nightmare."

Burning plastic is not a viable option, so the lion's share of plastic waste ends up in landfills or is simply tossed as litter.

"The developing world, in particular, has been completely overwhelmed by the challenge of managing plastic waste, especially when the plastic bag of a generation or two ago would have been a banana leaf and the PET bottle a bamboo vessel that would harmlessly degrade back to the soil –- not so with plastics," said de Lannoy, whose work largely focuses on human rights, the environment and culture.

As much as 28 billion pounds of plastic enters the planet's ocean every year and, in the next decade, that figure could double, according to Ocean Conservancy.

Asia accounts for 82 percent of the total leakage of plastic into the ocean, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation report.

"When it comes to the sea, the consequences are even more dire," de Lannoy said. "For the most part, plastic does not degrade but simply breaks into smaller and smaller pieces until it creates a toxic soup in the water that is ingested by sea birds, fish and predators that eat fish, including us."

In light of Earth Day on Saturday, de Lannoy said he hopes his latest photography project will spur serious discussions about plastic pollution in developing nations that will lead to finding solutions and taking action.

"This photo essay examines the dream versus the nightmare of plastics and managing the waste," he said. "I hope this series will generate a conversation about the need to upscale recycling efforts in the developing world by considering what happens to all that plastic after we use it if the plastic waste is not properly managed."

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