Conceptual artist Benjamin Von Wong is used to swimming with sharks or chasing storms for his photo shoots, but this weekend he's navigating a decidedly less adventurous locale — a warehouse in Pointe-Claire full of old plastic bottles.
Von Wong says he wants his latest project to get people thinking about how much plastic they are throwing away.
He said he's worried about World Economic Forum estimates that by 2050 our oceans will have more plastics in them than fish. But he knows people don't like to talk about plastic.
"It's a boring topic," Von Wong said.
His solution? Make the issue about a mermaid.
He's collected 10,000 plastic bottles and enlisted volunteers through Facebook to help remove the labels and clean them.
"The idea is to create a series where a mermaid is trapped, or sitting within, a bunch of plastic bottles."
On Sunday, he'll take photos from up above the scene in his trademark hyper-realistic style.
He hopes to make the images so beautiful that they go viral online and get people to take a closer look at what they're doing with their plastic.
"How do you generate a conversation over stories people don't want to talk about? I think art and beauty are the way to do that," he said.
Fellow photographers flock to help
Some of the volunteers at the warehouse travelled for more than an hour and half to help Von Wong clean bottles for the project.
Volunteer Martin Perreault is a photographer and said he wanted to see how Von Wong works in person.
"I wanted to see what he does with it," Perreault said. "He creates awesome projects that touch everyone."
The warehouse space has been donated by Pointe-Claire-based flooring manufacturer Power Dekor North America.
Spokesperson Alexandre Décarie said the company wanted to support Von Wong's work in raising awareness of environmental issues.
"I think he's a visionary. He does unique and interesting stuff," Décarie said.
Photos that raise awareness
The former Montrealer's work is known around the world and he's captivated the Internet with his beautiful and thought-provoking images.
He's currently working on a series of photographs which highlight conservation.
The project took him to Fiji where he photographed sharks to draw awareness to how many of them are harmless and being killed by people.
It also led him to the U.S., where chased storms in the hopes of highlighting what he calls the "coming storm of climate change."
Von Wong is a former mining engineer who taught himself photography before taking it on full time in 2012.
His work has garnered a large following on social media since then.
His most viral content so far is a YouTube mini-documentary of photographing underwater shipwrecks. It has been viewed more than 1.5 million times.