Photos and text by Andrea Frank

Here are photographs of cargo vessels that are either anchored in ports or waiting in position to enter their port of call. They are loaded with unknown goods, tightly integrated into a logistical system of mind boggling complexity that answers to pressures of time and related profit.

The ship’s name and place of home port, together with the shooting location, hint at an invisible globe-spanning network of vessels that crisscross oceans. The vessels’ shape is defined by function, their weathered steel bodies respond to the maritime light of the respective locations in Europe, the U.S., and Southeast Asia. The images are virtually devoid of humans, rendering the ships actors on a stage of massive scale, charged with our often sentimental and archaic psychological projections and identifications. In an effort to connect the individual and the global, I grapple with the concept of scale, trying to relate the cargo ship––loaded with thousands of those standardized containers and part of a fleet of millions––to my own physical context and scale.

My underlying interest for this project lies in systemic relationships and dynamics in our globalized world. The images must function as singular formal works while collectively engendering associations and weaving connections that span the ecological, global economic, and socio-political arenas.

Caught in the whirlwind of the rapid and often exponential growth and change of technological revolution, there is a street perception and expectation in the western world of constant and ever-improving availability of faster and cheaper personal technologies, cheaper goods––in short, more stuff. The earth is perceived and treated as an inexhaustible resource to be exploited with no care for the long-term effects of our actions.

Ports and Ships casts a light on our current state of global trade, exposing the invisible backbone of a convenient but ultimately destructive and unjust social and economic system. We have come to rely on outsourcing as a strategy to cut costs––exploiting non-unionized and low-cost labor in developing countries; moving raw material, parts, and goods across oceans several times before they are sold to the consumer; and ignoring the detrimental effects on societies and the environment.

Everything seems to still be serene and calm in this world of seagoing vessels moving on a vast surface with unimaginable depths below. The changes that are currently happening in this body of water—such as ice caps melting and water levels rising—are still too incremental to be noticed.

I have no idea how to remediate the grave threats to the planet and humanity. The links and dynamics that connect contemporary global societies are too intricate, complex, and new. At no time in human evolution has man had to deal with such dynamic systems on a global scale. Technology is outracing our ability to assimilate it. We are in a collective paralysis where we know we are part of a destructive system, yet are unable to seriously reconsider our societal paradigms and ideologies.


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