7 Days of Garbage

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 4 pounds of garbage a day. As a nation, we generate 4 million tons of waste, weekly. I’m concerned not only by how much we throw away, but by how blithe we are to the problem. In January, I set out to create pictures that make the trash problem impossible to ignore. I asked family, friends, neighbors and other acquaintances to save their trash and recyclables for a week and then to lie down and be photographed in it. I included my family because I want my 7-year-old son to understand that we’re contributing to the problem, too. I asked people to include their recyclables for several reasons: much of what is designated recyclable is not recycled, recycling plastic has environmental costs, and packaging is excessive. I’ve created three environments for the pictures, all in my yard in Altadena, CA: water, forest and beach. I photograph participants directly from above, camera centered over the subject, tethered to my computer below. I will continue the series, creating other environments (or shooting on location): snowy tundra, rocky outcropping, field of wildflowers, etc. My aim is to illustrate how pervasive garbage is. By asking us to look at ourselves, I’ve found that some are considering the issue more deeply. Many have said the process of saving their garbage and then laying in it reconciled them to a need for change. Others have commented how powerless they feel. What can any one of us do? It isn’t our fault that the products we buy come with excessive packaging and have brief life spans. Our economic model and its necessity for growth fuels the waste epidemic – and makes conservation seem untenable. Still, some of us are making small steps to mitigate the crisis. 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. Gregg Segal

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