I’ve long said that when I die, just throw my body in a dumpster somewhere. People can grieve or celebrate my passing, but I won’t care where you leave me.
There’s a lot of tongue in cheek in that paragraph, but seriously. Physical remains don’t really matter.
That said, I was driving by a location that is a common trash depository. I took a look inside, and the mattress and chair is what I found. What a scene. What a picture,
I did what I do. I made the picture. The purer, more documentary version, is very strong. But, these days I’m messing with photographs as a base to a more painterly-like piece.
My photojournalist friends will gasp at this. I don’t care. I haven’t been a pure photojournalist since 1990. These days, I’m closer than ever to getting outside myself and into the image. They say that all art is autobiographical.
What does this picture say about me.? In this time? In this place?
I’m thinking quite a lot.
We are living through a period in history when it seems goodness is retreating. Democracy is fighting to live on. Leaders have become autocratic. And, others think they have the right to determine what goes on in other human being’s bodies. The planet is suffering. The climate is changing. Plastic seems to be ruling the earth. (I’ll get to that in a minute.)
Dark. Dark. Dark.
History shows us that when darkness is at its highest point, artists become more creative. We feel less inclined to go back to our old standbys. We tend to explore more. We tend to take more chances. Our work might not be beautiful. Instead, it makes a point.
This picture is about how we got here. Our disposable society. I went in and took a close look. The chair didn’t have a whole lot of wear on it. One arm rest was torn and patched with duck tape. I know an upholstering place that could fix that like new for about fifty dollars. The mattress? It was fine. It still had a sheet on it. Surely, it could be saved. At least, the sheet could be.
The picture. I went through a lot of changes on this one. Me, as well as the picture. It started out as a pretty good documentary piece. I kept working and working. I made a lot of false starts.
I had the image in my head. Getting there was a different issue. I finally did.
For instance, the dumpsters — the two dark frames on either side of the picture — are black. By removing as much color as possible, they revealed themselves to have a red undercoating. Likely, that’s how they came from the factory. When they reached the garbage collection company they were painted black and branding was added. I layered another picture over that. It was about nature. Nature retreating.
Plastic. It way worse than we thought. We make a big deal out of plastic water bottles. We make a big deal out of single use plastic straws.
I decided to save a month’s worth of plastic trash, with a little help from my friends. Today is March 25th. Six days to go. Two large paper grocery bags of plastic. Filled to the top. Admittedly, we ran out of some long lasting items like condiments. They added to the monthly total. But, what we found scared the hell out of me. And, that takes some doing.
Almost everything we buy has a plastic component to it.
Prescription bottles, prescribed and over the counter. All condiment bottles like mustard and catsup. Even vinegar bottles are made of plastic. Every possible kind of food wrapper. We normally buy different kind of lettuce in bags. We stopped. Doesn’t matter. Even a plain old head of ice burg lettuce is wrapped in plastic. Every fresh veggie or fruit that is carried out of the store is wrapped in plastic. Just a bag, but still. Meat. Sure the bottom of the package is made out of styrofoam, but the whole thing is wrapped in plastic. Frozen veggies? Plastic. Spices come packaged in plastic bottles. Buy a takeout sandwich? It is wrapped in plastic and shoved into a plastic bag. The only fast food place that doesn’t do that is Five Guys. Everything comes in paper. How many hamburgers can I eat in a week?
I could go on. And, on. And, on.
Instead, I’ll leave you with this.
Nature’s ultimate protective package is a banana. It comes with its own wrapper. The skin. You’d think that would be enough. Nope. We saw bananas wrapped in plastic. Oh no. Not the bunch. Each individual banana. Then, that was wrapped in plastic as a bunch. What are these people thinking?
There are some solutions. For fresh veggies and fruits you can buy mesh bags. The best are made of hemp. You can buy them in many health food stores or online. You can have a butcher cut and wrap meat in paper. You can buy bulk spices, and store them in your own containers. But, you have to be able to use them before they start tasting like colored saw dust.
So many things are hard to replace. Prescription bottles, for instance. Reusable glass bottles would be great. I suspect most people won’t remember to return them. We used to have glass milk bottles. When we had milkmen. My parents used to buy seltzer the same way. A delivery guy would come by and collect the empties which he replaced with refilled bottles. We drink seltzer today. We buy it at the grocery store. It comes in cans or bottles. Plastic bottles.
We can grow some staples. Tomatoes grow like mad down here. We’ll have 500-600 this year. Our basil plant is now a bush about to grow into a tree. We’d have strawberries too. But, the little jerks who call themselves dogs, smell them as they are ripening. When they are ripe, one bite and they are gone. They try to act like they aren’t guilty. Hard to do with red juice dropping down their chins.
In any case, shopping in store that uses paper, buying your own bags and containers, growing stuff and such, is going to get expensive. You don’t need to buy a lot, but you shop more… using your car. It never ends.
I think it’s worth it.