On average, each American discards more than four pounds of garbage every day. Our throwaway society generates enough trash each year to cover 82,000 football fields six feet deep in compacted garbage, or, put another way, enough refuse to fill a line of garbage trucks stretching bumper to bumper to the moon. These comparisons of scale are meant to grab our attention, but the truth is, the unbelievable images don’t make the problem any more real to us. We continue to tote our bins to the curb and are happy that the garbage simply goes “away.”
To help people conceptualize the enormity of our collective trash pile, eco-artist Tim Gaudreau took a photograph of every single item he threw away or recycled for a 12-month period in 2003 and 2004. Everything: Q-Tips, the stickers on store-bought apples, lightbulbs, coffee cups – even a computer. His project, entitled “Self Portrait as Revealed by Trash: 365 days of photographing everything I threw out,” changed Gaudreau.
“My habits changed dramatically over the course of observation,” says Gaudreau, whose collage of the trash photographs appeared at the California Institute of Integral Studies last year. “I thought of myself as an eco-conscious guy to begin with, but once I started documenting, I discovered all sorts of things that I just didn’t think about before. If it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. By taking photos of everything, I forced my trash into my consciousness and it couldn’t be ignored.”
Individually, each image in Gaudreau’s collection of 5,000 snapshots is unremarkable, innocuous even. How much space can a tiny fruit sticker take up in a landfill anyway? Together, the items create a powerful effect, forcing the viewer to reconsider how quickly and effortlessly we collect and then discard items. Seen all at once, a year’s worth of garbage suddenly brings the impossible scale of our scrap heap into intolerable focus.
Gaudreau, a native of New Hampshire who continues to live and work there, creates multimedia art using photography, video, new-media, and sculpture. You can see more of his artwork at www.wake-up.ws.
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