POV

7 Days of Garbage

I see 7 Days of Garbage as instant archeology, a record not only of our waste but of our values – values that may be evolving a little.

By Gregg Segal - www.greggsegal.com
Till and NIcholas Photo © Gregg Segal

Till and NIcholas Photo © Gregg Segal

The seeds for this project have been germinating for a long time – ever since I began considering how much we Americans consume and how much garbage we produce. I’m reminded, each week, as we roll our 65-gallon garbage cans to the curb, often loaded to the brim (I requested a smaller can from my sanitation company because the standard size is just too big for my needs). The average American generates about 28 pounds of garbage a week. Multiply that by 310 million (the U.S. population) and you get 4 million tons that is trucked away every week – out of sight, out of mind.

 

Joya, Santiniketan, Rabindranath, Chandramohan, Ben, Bodihisattba, Omjabarindra Photo © Gregg Segal

Joya, Santiniketan, Rabindranath, Chandramohan, Ben, Bodihisattba, Omjabarindra Photo © Gregg Segal

Though I’m not an environmental activist, I am concerned – not only by how much we consume and throw away, but by how blind we seem to be to all the waste and how blithely we go about our routine of taking out the garbage.

 

Cass Photo © Gregg Segal

Cass Photo © Gregg Segal

In January, I set out to create pictures that make the trash problem impossible to ignore. I asked friends, family, neighbors, friends of friends and other acquaintances to save their trash and their recyclables for a week and then to lie down and be photographed with all of it. Some of the subjects volunteered because they thought the project was worthwhile. Others endured the indignity of laying in their own smelly trash in exchange for payment. The series of portraits is inclusive, representing a range of socio-economic backgrounds, ages, ethnicities and relationships. I photographed myself and my family, too, because I’m not pointing my finger at others; my family is part of the problem and I want my 7 year old son to know that.

 

Dana Photo © Gregg Segal

Dana Photo © Gregg Segal

I asked people to include their recyclables for several reasons: much of what is designated recyclable is not recycled (large areas of our oceans, like the Pacific Garbage Patch, are filled with plastic); recycling plastic doesn’t make sense, economically or environmentally, as a great deal of energy is required to repurpose plastic (New York City did away with recycling plastic because these costs far outweighed the benefits); finally, I want to underscore that much of the packaging we consume is unnecessary.

 

Elias, Jessica, Azai and Ri-karlo Photo © Gregg Segal

Elias, Jessica, Azai and Ri-karlo Photo © Gregg Segal

To date, I’ve created three environments for the pictures, all in my own yard in Altadena, California: water, forest and beach. For the water setting, I built an 8’ square frame, lined it with black plastic, and filled it with water (about 14” deep). I made a bed of moss, duff, twigs, leaves, and pine cones for the forest floor. For the beach, I brought in about 1,000 pounds of sand, seaweed, shells. I photograph participants directly from above, my camera centered over the subject, mounted to steel railing and tethered to my computer below, where I shoot from. I plan to continue the series, creating other environments (or shooting on location if necessary): snowy tundra, rocky outcropping, field of wildflowers, etc. The point is to highlight how pervasive garbage is; no corner of the earth is untouched.

 

Gaby Photo © Gregg Segal

Gaby Photo © Gregg Segal

The photos in this series may not change anyone’s habits, but by holding up a mirror and asking us to look at ourselves, I’ve found that some are considering the issue more deeply. Several of the subjects I photographed have said the process of saving their garbage – and then laying in it – reconciled them to a need for change. Others have commented how small and powerless they feel in the face of the problem. What can any one of us do? It isn’t our fault that the products we buy come with excessive packaging. It isn’t our fault either that the products available to us are designed to have a short life span. General Electric could make a refrigerator that keeps our beer cold for 400 years, but if they did, they wouldn’t make a profit and as a company, they wouldn’t grow. This economic model and its necessity for continual growth is what fuels much of the waste epidemic – and makes conservation seem untenable.

 

Gregg, Hank and Dani Photo © Gregg Segal

Gregg, Hank and Dani Photo © Gregg Segal

Still, some of us are finding that there are small steps we can take to mitigate the crisis (compost if you have a yard, bring your own re-usable water bottle when you travel, buy produce without packaging).

 

James Photo © Gregg Segal

James Photo © Gregg Segal

Reflecting on the pictures I’ve made so far, I see 7 Days of Garbage as instant archeology, a record not only of our waste but of our values – values that may be evolving a little.

 

John Photo © Gregg Segal

John Photo © Gregg Segal

Lya, Whitney and Kathrin Photo © Gregg Segal

Lya, Whitney and Kathrin Photo © Gregg Segal

Marsha and Steve Photo © Gregg Segal

Marsha and Steve Photo © Gregg Segal

Michael, Jason, Annie and Olivia Photo © Gregg Segal

Michael, Jason, Annie and Olivia Photo © Gregg Segal

Milt Photo © Gregg Segal

Milt Photo © Gregg Segal

Sam and Jane Photo © Gregg Segal

Sam and Jane Photo © Gregg Segal

Siggins Photo © Gregg Segal

Siggins Photo © Gregg Segal

Susan Photo © Gregg Segal

Susan Photo © Gregg Segal

Susan, Curtis and Brittany Photo © Gregg Segal

Susan, Curtis and Brittany Photo © Gregg Segal

Tammy and Trevor Photo © Gregg Segal

Tammy and Trevor Photo © Gregg Segal

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