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Sherkin’s Nuala highlights scourge of ocean plastics

September 3rd, 2022 8:00 PM

Fine art photographer Nuala Mahon on Trá Eoghan Mór on Sherkin Island.

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Nuala Mahon, a Sherkin Island-based fine art photographer, will hold a multi-media exhibition in the community hall on the island, to highlight the scourge of ocean plastics.

‘Leave no visible trace’, from September 3rd-8th, from 11am-5pm daily, captures Nuala’s interest in environmental issues, and particularly, in the detrimental impact of ocean plastic pollution.

Her project started during lockdown in 2020 on her daily walks on Sherkin Island when she became acutely aware of and concerned about the quantity of plastic debris being washed up on the island’s beaches.

Determined to highlight the increasing danger of ocean plastics, she set about recording what she was finding.

Rather than taking traditional photographs of the plastic debris, she fabricated fragile and short-lived pinhole cameras out of cardboard and tin to capture the images and used her scientific background to make the developer from bladderwrack seaweed instead of photographic processing chemicals.

She believes the resulting images have an ethereal quality, a counterpoint to the indestructible nature of plastic debris found in the environment which can last for hundreds if not thousands of years in the sea, to the detriment of sea life and humans.

Nuala, who holds a BSc and an MSc in chemistry, is currently completing a BA(hons) in photography from the Open College for the Arts (OCA), which is the online college of the University of the Creative Arts (UCA). The exhibition forms part of her final year project.

One of Nuala's ethereal pinhole camera images of found plastic toys on the beach.

In her garden studio and darkroom on Sherkin Island, she used bladderwrack seaweed to develop the images and a solution of sea salt to fix them.

‘I wanted every step of this process to be sustainable – to work hand-in-hand with nature to capture and develop the images,’ she said.

Nuala’s haunting images will be displayed in the community hall using sustainable materials such as hemp paper and recyclable metals and board.

She also plans to have an installation on Trá Eoghan Mór beach (Cow Strand) on Sherkin Island as part of the exhibition, showing a series of her images printed on linen.

Always keenly aware of the message at the heart of her project, her body of work includes a film she has created, a book, posters, a display of some of the ocean plastics she found and the remains of the pin hole cameras she had used. In addition to ocean plastics found on the beach, Nuala also recorded her own personal use of plastics over a period of 12 months.

‘My hope is that this exhibition will highlight that we are all part of the chain that perpetuates our collective over-dependence on plastic and the steps we can all take to help break that chain to minimise plastic pollution in our environment.’

She said she is extremely grateful to Cork County Council and to the Sherkin Island Development Society (SIDS) for their sponsorship and support of the project.

As part of that awareness raising process, Nuala also worked with Sherkin Island children over the last 12 months to run a series of workshops creating artwork from ocean plastic debris. 

Nuala’s work has already been exhibited as part of a collaboration in the Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool at the Look Climate Lab2022 exhibition, at The Aisling Gallery in Ballydehob in June, and was shortlisted for the Belfast Photo Festival 2022.

Last week Nuala was received accreditation as a climate aware photographer for demonstrating her commitment to a low carbon photographic practice. For more see mahons.org.

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