In his Project Commodore (since 2018), photographer Phillip Sulke documents huge cargo ships on the Hudson River, revealing colors, patterns, and details of their cargo. With a Marine Traffic App he tracks the schedule of the international freighters, some of which pass by only once a year. Poetic images and videos reveal a thoughtful commentary on production, consumption, transport routes, and environmental issues. The work is on display at MAK DESIGN LAB as a tryptich. In his contribution for the MAK-Blog Phillip Sulke shares some thoughts on his projects.
“I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.” Genesis 7:4
According to the Bible, life on earth has already survived one apocalypse. Might we, once again be granted a do-over, a chance to live in harmony with the earth rather than exploiting it? The well known tale of Noah’s Ark makes the vessel feel familiar and provides an easy answer to the question: how can we save the world from what we have done to it?
With my first sculptural work 40 days 40 nights pondered whether this means our Ark is already going down, or if we still have time to save it, ourselves, and the living creatures we share this planet with? Each year record temperatures, floods, fires and hurricanes raise the alarm louder, but we don’t seem to hear it. When will we know we have gone too far? Are we living through a series of exasperated warnings, or the wrath from Above? No matter what you believe, that we would be punished for what we have mined, burned and consumed has been predicted by scientists since the end of the 19th century.
My interest in shipping began when I moved to Upstate New York and used my drone to photograph oil tankers cynically passing carriers transporting wind turbines along the Hudson River. Fascinated by breadth of marine traffic on the Hudson, I traveled to the world’s largest harbors to capture the mega container ships loading and unloading their cargo within hours. The number of these ships at sea, transporting our stuff, has only increased during the pandemic and subsequent boom in construction and online shopping. My drone photography communicates the weight and heft of these ocean-bound beasts that linger, unseen, behind our consumption.
Ninety percent of all internationally traded goods reach their destination by sea. The shipping sector is responsible for 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and if it were a country, it would be the sixth largest CO2 emitter worldwide. The largest container ships today are hundreds of times larger than Noah’s Ark, something that could itself be seen as blasphemous. My sculptures and drone photography reveal the vessels that govern our lives, and our beliefs, without us realizing it. By showcasing what we may never be able to see or conceptualize my work hopefully edges us a little closer to the answers that might be able to save us: from ourselves, or the wrath that is being inflicted upon us.
A contribution by Phillip Sulke, photographer based in Vienna and New York.