“My mother knew I’d become a photographer when, after she got me a camera for my eleventh birthday, I photographed our neighbor’s garbage,” Gregg Segal tells us. “I’m lucky I had the sort of mother who saw photographs of garbage as art – or at least as material worthy of documentation. I couldn’t help take notice of, and record what I saw.”
Given this origin story, and these images from grownup Segal’s ongoing project 7 Days of Garbage, it wouldn’t seem much of a stretch to connect the dots. Like, what is it with this guy and garbage?
But there are a whole lot of dots, and a whole lot of projects in between, each of them connected with a deeper theme: how to visually document what’s underneath and behind things. How do the things we do, consume, build — and, ultimately, discard — inform our identities? And how does that affect our culture?
Unlike other projects where subjects sit with significant objects, some asked to participate were reportedly ashamed of the trash they generated, and edited things down a bit. Others didn’t. What might any of ours have looked like?
The project, in Segal’s own words:
“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wondered about garbage – where does it go, and what happens when we run out of places to put it? The average American generates 29 pounds of garbage a week. As a nation, that amounts to about 9 billion pounds per week! I’m concerned not only by how much we throw away, but by how blithe we are to the problem.”
“With 7 Days of Garbage, I call attention to the problem of waste by personalizing it. I asked family, friends, neighbors and other acquaintances to save their trash and recyclables for a week and then lie down and be photographed in it. I photographed my family because I want my 8-year-old son to understand that we’re contributing to the problem, too.”
“I created the settings for the pictures in my yard in Altadena, CA: water, forest, beach and snow. Garbage is pervasive; no environment is untouched. In 2015, I was commissioned to add to the series, shooting several more portraits in Toronto.
By asking us to look at ourselves, I’ve found that many are considering the issue more deeply. Many have said the process of saving their garbage and laying in it reconciled them to a need for change. Others feel powerless. It isn’t their fault that the products they buy are disposable and come with excessive packaging. Our economic model and its necessity for growth fuels the waste epidemic – and makes conservation seem untenable.”
“Still, by personalizing the problem of waste – by starting with myself and working outwards from there, I’ve found that some are taking small steps to mitigate the crisis. Reflecting on the pictures I’ve made, 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.”