Watch your hands, 2019-2020
I have a confession to make. I am obsessed with our trash. And I have been obsessed with our trash for over a year.
I thought it all began last September, with a photo I texted my friend. She had sent me a dirty bra abandoned on the sidewalk, and to that I immediately replied with a dirty pair of underwear I saw on the edge of the curb. Sometimes you are in the right moment at the right time. This was a small exchange of images, between two of us, halfway across the state, and I'm fairly certain she had the same feeling as mine. It was mysterious, beautiful, humorous and disgusting all at the same time. I was in awe and I instantly fell in love.
Noticing trash became an obsession of mine. Who owned this? What was left behind and why? Where had this displaced object previously been, and did the owner know it was missing? Whose hands had recently held this object? What did this object symbolize? Why was this object discarded? How was this object part of a larger story? Is this story worth interpreting as a photographer?
As an artist, am I also a historian, a sociologist, a curator, an anthropologist? As an artist, what story am I telling? Could I portray trash as beauty, as worthy of art? How might I reclaim the narrative?
In producing my collection below, I traced back to the very first picture I took of trash. It turns out that it all began with three images I captured in July, 2019. Two gloves at the edge of a dumpster with the words "WATCH YOUR HANDS". Directed towards a stranger or threat, "Watch your hands" can mean fierce boundaries on consent and permission. "Watch your hands" may also be directed to someone you love as a gesture of protection, warning of potential danger and harm. It sounds similar to the 2020 rallying cry of "wash your hands", a phrase we direct to our loved ones and to strangers in common, a phrase uniting all humanity.
The images below portray themes and stories. The images present anonymous remnants of our bad habits and mistakes. The images portray patterns in consumer culture. The images represent breadcrumbs tracing to an unparalleled global shift, unpredicted at the beginning of the project. The images were taken over the course of one year, July 2019-July 2020, in various locations in my daily life in Michigan. Generally that means a range of urban and rural areas, including state parks, beaches, college campuses, festivals, fairs, farms, and both bustling and empty sidewalks. Many of these images were taken on walks with dear friends who were patient enough to let me pause as I got a closer look, and lovingly nudged me back into our conversation right where we last left off. The images presented themselves to me. I did not touch, move, nor manipulate any of the objects shown in this collection. I simply frame them for your curiosity and attention.
Much like 2020, may you find it mysterious, beautiful, humorous and disgusting all at the same time. May you find something new about yourself that you have in common with both friends and strangers. May you find beauty in the narrative.
This project is an ongoing work in progress that I will continue to update throughout 2020. It is taking me a long time to curate my photos. One year of this project certainly taught me to take breaks, look up from my phone and enjoy the view.
To my dear friends who viscerally process sensory imagery: some of the images below contain material that may be triggering. If you are curious to explore, I encourage you to explore mindfully, only a few images at a time. Try to see if you can spot objects that portray pleasure. Reclaim the narrative.