Hidden Gems of the Mundane

We encounter litter on a regular basis, but to most passersby these discarded, ordinary objects do not play a role in their daily routine, thoughts or actions. Nowadays we are always rushing, too busy to really pick up on our surroundings. However, I feel the need to pay attention to that which otherwise goes unnoticed—it becomes the subject of my work. The city in particular seems to act thought-provoking as the innumerable lives and dwellings within it make time shift and bend in unpredictable ways. Everything within the cityscape seems to be connected, nothing possesses a single or exclusive life. I believe if we understood this better, the so to speak hidden gems of the mundane could be a wonderful (re)source of inspiration.

I stroll and explore the urban landscape without a planned route or particular destination. Fascinated by how people consume, accumulate and reject objects, I use my camera to break down the city’s surface and reveal its hidden connections. I enter a world inside the world that we see, like a parallel universe where one man’s trash becomes another man’s treasure (quite literally). The overarching theme of this photo series is artistic rendering of urban space. The content is dependent on chance encounters and my geographic location in time. Essentially, these are observational images of things I find on the streets that were left behind by fellow modern day Flâneurs; items that have all sat undisturbed, waiting to be collected or photographed. I aim to bring out the visible details and traces of everyday life that are in front of our eyes, but which most of us do not see nor feel their presence.

There is a sense of history to the objects in that they evoke memories and associations through visible evidence: signs of abuse and neglect. These imperfections add to their picturesque quality and enhance the idea of this project being rubbish to begin with: taking rubbish images of rubbish. However there’s a much deeper underlying message: to raise awareness of our impact and the role we play in the increasing issues surrounding climate change. You can quite literally see the state of objects as demonstrative of the continually transforming relationships between humans and the environment. 

A single encounter sets in motion a series of thoughts. From a vernacular viewpoint, I ponder and speculate about the stories behind the things I encounter. Who did this item belong to? I try to put a face and name to something inanimate as the search for a thing and the search for a person seems inseparable. How did it end up here and what might happen to it after I have taken a picture? I cannot preserve these objects, but I can capture them — and the effects of time in a sense— before they disappear, which can happen at any moment. Whatever happens to them next is not in my hands.

Working with debris encourages me to look beyond our presumed ideas of value and utility. The simple paradox of being able to photograph something that is typically considered ugly, useless, unappealing and dirty, challenges me to think and look afresh. I attempt to capture the atmosphere and physical properties, documenting my findings in a way that calls attention to their artistic potential (and/or purpose). I do not move or position anything, I simply record what I believe to be the aesthetic state of these items as I find them. The will to catalogue has proliferated in a literal sense with inventories of all kinds of random found items, as if preparing documents for a book that describes every little aspect and fragment of the world. And yet in these accumulations of things I am not assembling anything that amounts to proof. Rather, archiving and collecting is a kind of compulsive activity that I cannot suppress. The images are simply a presentation of my own observations.

I am interested in how items move through categories of in-use, rubbish, recycled and re-used. During this cycle of consumption, organic materials such as fruit or vegetables, in a sense end up back where they came from. What originated from natural soil is disposed again in a different setting that is made out of concrete sidewalks and plastic containers. Though artificial objects appear to be in an unchanging, fixed state, in actuality, as is true with nature, they are in stages of transformation and decomposition. Man-made materials do not degrade in the same biological way, but instead go through a rather different, more time consuming process. This occasionally generates stark contrasts within the landscape, but usually the line between the natural and artificial is more subtle. Rubbish tends to blend in with its surroundings, like a soldier in camouflage or a chameleon during times of distress. In fact, more than ever are we becoming accustomed to seeing man-made materials in the natural environment. Waste is everywhere, and we see it so frequently that it has become ‘normal’. The result is that there is little meaning to what divides the two, and perhaps little meaning to the distinction between rubbish and art.

Ultimately, these photographs outline a particular exercise of seeing and thinking which I intent to share with others: to become more aware of what is already there. Once you tune into this sort of thoughtless act, you start observing the world very differently.

Perhaps these photographs will make people stop and think about their consumption patterns and the effects of a materialistic lifestyle.

I have shot this series on film because the nature of the medium itself brings me closer to the material world in which the subjects exist. Another aspect that played a roll in my decision to shoot film, is that I prefer the colour palette it gives me and so prevents me from further ‘cleansing’ my photographs. I do not intentionally want the rubbish to look pretty. I just want to capture these objects the way I find them, in what I believe to be their natural aesthetic state. Photographic representations of rubbish already have one layer of the abject reality of rubbish removed the moment the picture is taken. An image of something is not the same as the real thing itself, but merely a two dimensional copy of the original in that moment in time. A picture cannot smell like the rubbish it portrays. It cannot reproduce these type of real-world interactive senses. To 'cleans' an image of its rubbish detail would degrade such experiences even further.  

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