Nothing Artificial Added: Trash in the Wilderness

About ten years ago, I began this documentary project while on a field trip to view midsummer wildflowers in state and national parks. As my fellow hikers were photographing plants and scenic vistas, I was shocked by the trash omnipresent in the most “pristine” wilderness settings, and I decided, perhaps perversely, to photograph trash rather than flora.

I thought the documentary thrust of the photographs might best be realized in black and white – but after changing them to monochrome, I was dismayed to see the trash tended to blend into the background grasses and pebbles– a not at all desirable effect. So I decided to hand-color the trash to make it stand out against the environment into which it had been so thoughtlessly dropped.

Restoring color to create a focal point in a black-and-white image proved to be an absorbing, even thrilling exercise in imitating the camera’s color capture. It gave me pause to realize I was iconizing trash, even beautifying it, using pastel pencils, when I aimed to create images of ugly or inappropriate objects that would make viewers reflect. Perhaps, though, this ambiguity might itself provoke thought.

Much controversial writing has been devoted recently to environmental issues, and an entire field of academic inquiry – trash and rubbish studies – has materialized in print. I am reading my way through this literature before writing an essay to accompany a photobook and/or a portfolio of images, all of which are printed on recycled archival paper.