Category: Trash

Trash shows us not what we want but precisely what we do not want.

Histories Hidden in Trash

What we learned walking across Berlin with a garbologist.

For Eva Becker, trash is a research subject. Germany’s first garbologist researches refuse and what it says about the humans creating it. In late summer, we joined her on one of her trash walks: A stroll through Berlin’s Kreuzberg district to document the trash on the streets.
Trash has a tendency to blend into the human environment. Especially in a city as busy and sometimes gritty as Berlin, you may fail to notice it. Walking with Eva, asking questions and slowly turning over the trash we found on our way was an eye-opening experience: Not only is there much more trash than you might think, it’s also scattered in the most unexpected places. We’ll let Eva explain.
Garbology is the study of modern trash. William Rathje of the University of Arizona started using modern archaeological methods to analyse trash in the 1970s. He realized, that the way we litter tells a lot about the way we live. I stumbled upon his research some years ago and was fascinated by it. I did some research and found out that garbology is virtually non-existent in Germany which motivated me to do it.
Trash is nothing new. As a species, we have always left something behind. In the Olduvai Gorge, one of the most important paleoanthropological sites in the world, archeologists have found trash in the form of bones or stone splitt-offs.
The interesting thing about garbage is that it serves as a common denominator. We all litter. Every part of the city is dirty. It’s just the amount and type of garbage that varies. A neighbourhood like Kreuzberg or Neukölln is a real treasure trove for somebody like me: Most people don’t really see the garbage that surrounds them because it is so ubiquitous. We filter it out. It’s only when the amount or type of garbage is unusual that we are reminded of it.
There are two ways people in cities deal with garbage when they are on the go: either they hide it or they present it. Sometimes, you come across a piece of garbage that was not just thrown away but carefully arranged or positioned by somebody. You would assume that people would dispose of their waste in the most discreet manner but some expose their garbage so that the trash collectors can more easily spot and collect it. And then there’s human laziness. That’s probably the prime reason for all the trash we find here. Even if there are enough garbage bins around: the incentive is not strong enough to overcome laziness and actually use them. Hiding waste, on the other hand, is mostly driven by shame or disgust. None of us likes garbage, not even our own.
I have a very high tolerance by now. Of course there are things that disgust me like used syringes or human waste. When I go and talk to school classes here in Berlin, I am always amazed at how the kids react to the garbage I bring with me. They will gladly take up a plastic cup or something that was laying on the street but they jump up and scream if there is an ant or spider crawling around. They have lost all connection to nature. Nature has become something unfamiliar and hence disgusting.
I have seen and documented so much garbage, there is relatively little that still amazes or shocks me. The most surprising thing is probably when you see something valuable being thrown out. I once found this very old and beautiful Indian antique. An acquaintance of mine – an Indologist – later told me that it was quite precious and rare.
It’s very hard to tell where garbage begins and where it ends. One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure. Are dead bodies garbage? When we die, our bodies no longer fulfill any functions, they become more or less worthless and that’s how many people would define waste: a useless object. But our bodies continue to have a function after we die, they become compost and re-enter the biological cycle. I would define garbage as something that is of no use but stays in the environment in some way or another. A plastic bag in the ocean will disintegrate but its parts will stay in the water for a substantial amount of time. Marine biologists call these little shreds of plastic mermaid tears.
William Rathje analysed the garbage at the Fresh Kills Landfill in NYC and what they found out was astounding. One example: they found large quantities of beef. They were able to trace it back to a specific moment in time because in the layer that had all the beef in it, they also found telephone books. They realized that the beef was thrown out during a time of economic recess. Why would people throw out expensive meat during a time of crisis? They bought it in such large quantities because they assumed it would only become more expensive or cease to be available completely. So people started buying beef in bulk but often had no means of storing it appropriately. They were forced to throw out the beef that had turned bad.
Garbage is often a better indicator of human behavior than human communication. In New York, an ad agency was commissioned to find out about the eating habits of the residents of a certain area. The residents were asked to complete a questionnaire about their diet and eating habits and it was established from the answers, that people in that neighborhood were eating extremely healthy. Yet, when a supermarket in the area started offering healthier food options, nobody bought it. It was only by analyzing the garbage of the area that they found out people were not really all that dedicated to a healthy lifestyle. Waste doesn’t lie, humans do.

Accuracy in Imperfection

Blurriness, grain, and double exposures used to be a no go in photo albums. Artist Maya Beano leverages them to reconstruct the hazy nature of memories.

What are you looking for when you’re taking a photo?
It’s all about capturing a feeling, a memory or a certain atmosphere, so it’s not necessarily about the reality in front of the lens. I actively create an atmosphere that I like – even if it’s not there.

Maya Beano is an film photographer based in the UK See more of her work on her website:

Maya Beano is an artist and photographer based in the UK. See more of her work on her website:

Many photographers consider themselves observers, but your approach seems to involve a lot more planning and construction…
I consider myself more of an artist than a photographer, and I do plan a lot of the pictures: A lot of the work involves double exposures, which tends to make things very dreamy – that’s the way people describe it.

“I shot this series in Northern Sweden, about 200km north of the Arctic Circle. My friends and I all enjoy snowy landscapes, and so we went out there with our cameras and our hiking gear. A lot of the pictures in this series were shot from an airplane, of sunrises and sunsets in January. It was just wonderful, I had never seen such intensely colored light in the sky. Their winter sunrises and sunsets lasted for hours.”

Why do you think that is?
If you think of the act of recalling a memory, the images I you have in my your head of the memory aren’t always very clear – at least in my case. It’s more of a mishmash of sights, feelings, sounds and smells. Things overlap quite a bit. That’s what I try to convey in my photos: I rely on long exposures, double exposures or color filters in front of the lens to change the mood.
You’re also deploying a lot of grain and fuzziness.
I don’t really store my film in the fridge like many people do, and it damages it. I reckon it’s cold enough in England to only damage it the right amount! Recently, I got my hand on a lot of expired film and those results are grainier than usual, which I quite like. As long as you can kind of tell what’s going on in the picture, it adds something. So I don’t consider what you’d call mistakes as real mistakes. I consider them a preference. I’m still in an experimental phase.
It’s a fascinating paradox to use something that many would consider broken or accidental to create art. Isn’t it weird that the fragile or damaged nature of film can lets you something that feels more real than reality?
That’s true: If I use a normal digital camera and shoot a very clear picture, it doesn’t give me the right feeling, or doesn’t recreate the atmosphere I want. The very clear images don’t resonate with me as much – whereas the hazy stuff does. It represents a more real image of what I see in my mind.
Has photography, through digitization, perhaps become too much about the ideal of a “perfectly clear” image?
Yes! I hear this both online and offline. Some say “Your images are so hazy, I can’t tell what’s going on.” Some of them just prefer the clearness of digital. That’s a side-effect of the trend to shoot a perfect picture of something, which is clear and bright, with perfect color reproduction. It doesn’t work for me, I find those pictures a little devoid of feeling. At the end of the day, it’s just a preference.
How do you create image series, if your memories are so muddled?
If I have a particularly powerful memory of something, or a strong emotional reaction to something, it will result in a series of photos. These are often inspired by personal experiences. I grew up in Jordan, in the Middle East, and every spring we would have these giant sandstorms that would fill the sky with these rosy clouds. A while ago, I went to Northern Ireland with my best friend and their sky, when the sun was setting, looked exactly like that. The result is the series “Rose Gold”.
You also took pictures in Iceland, which is a pretty surreal place as it is.
It was easier than usual to add a touch of surrealism to the photos I took in Iceland because the place is so surreal already. The problem was that it was so cold that I had to use warm pouches in my camera bags so that the cameras wouldn’t freeze and stop working. I had a similar experience in the north of Sweden last January.
Your pictures suggest that there’s another pane to reality that we may be missing. Are we looking at the world in a too factual way?
Sometimes, yes. I find people’s different perceptions of the world incredibly interesting. The simplest example: When I go on a trip and I talk about what I found most interesting, my account of it is usually very different from that of my friends, just as each one of theirs is different. Everyone has a very unique way of seeing the world and I am just trying to document my own personal journeys of the heart and the mind. It’s all a bit hazy in there.

"I never play by the rules"

Filmmaker Uwe Boll is notorious – not just for his movies but also the bad reviews they have garnered. Now that he is quitting the business, a frank and honest conversation about his legacy, his ambitions, and why America sometimes needs to be offended.

Which of your movies are you most proud of?
I just recently watched Postal again at a showing in Germany. Ten years after we shot it, it’s still very up-to-date: The political situation in the world has only become crazier, and the movie feels a little bit like a prophecy. But I am also very proud of Darfur, which was about the genocide there. We shot it while the massacres were happening. I am very proud of both movies.
That’s an interesting selection: While Darfur has garnered quite positive reviews, Postal has been universally criticized.
Postal is not a fine satire with Woody Allen type of humor. It has the humor of The Hangover, applied to political satire. It is dirty and sexual, which is already a red flag for most reviewers: They feel like they can’t say that something like that is a good satire. But remember: Postal was made before The Hangover, so who knows what people would say if it came out today…

“My movies broke a lot of taboos.”

You think it was ahead of its time?
In regards of harshness, absolutely. I broke a lot of Hollywood conventions: There’s full-frontal nudity, and there’s a scene in there about a Nazi amusement park called Little Germany where children are being shot to death. In Hollywood movies, children never get shot on camera. But when I went to that showing now, there were about a hundred people in the audience laughing their asses off. People today enjoy it more than audiences ten years ago. Back then, people just felt offended by it.

Uwe Boll is a German filmmaker who lives and works in Canada. His often controversial movies have spanned topics from video game adaptation to Holocaust documentaries. In 2016, Boll announced that he was quitting the movie business with his last film Rampage 3. He also runs a German restaurant called Bauhaus Restaurant.

Uwe Boll is a German filmmaker who lives and works in Canada. His often controversial movies have spanned topics from video game adaptation to Holocaust documentaries. In 2016, Boll announced that he was quitting the movie business with his last film Rampage 3. He also runs a German restaurant called Bauhaus Restaurant.

A reviewer at the time described Postal as ”over the top satire: unfunny and unnecessary.” Have attitudes really changed that much?
With the rise of the internet, harsh jokes have become more common and a lot easier to digest. Individual tastes have changed a lot and many taboos have disappeared. But reviewers were offended and then wrote negatively about the whole movie. When it came out, I did a little theatrical tour in the US and said “The movie is done with the idea of no races, no religion, no nations”. We don’t make jokes about a specific religion but say that all religion is bullshit and you are all completely fucking retarded if you are religious. I broke a lot of taboos…
Like what?
In Postal, there’s a scene in which a TV announcer says that the victims of 9/11 deserved to die. Saying things like that, ten years ago, was very offensive.
Or tasteless.
It’s a discussion I’ve had: At the Hoboken International Film Festival in New Jersey, Postal was the opening movie. But the mayor refused to speak at the opening because of it. I spoke to a lot of audience members, who walked out. And I said “Look, a movie can be much more exaggerated than reality. All the victims of the attacks were called heroes! But someone needs to say the opposite, just as an antidote.”
Because the reality is that they weren’t heroes: They were victims. They were pulverized by a building and there’s nothing heroic in that! It just shows that America values the lives of their own citizens more than those in the Middle East or Afghanistan, where they mercilessly bombed people. Art needs to address that. And I am not a politician, so I don’t have to be politically correct.
A counterpoint?
Exactly! Look at pussies like  Roland Emmerich or Wolfgang Petersen: they could not stop kissing the asses of the Americans. They tried to be more American than the Americans. I always tried to be the complete opposite.

“All American movies are advertising clips for the military.”

How much of that is caused by your dislike of what is called the “the Hollywood formula”: Endless reboots and similar scripts?
I feel that the undertone of American movies is overly patriotic. Even if movies are about the “freedom of the individual”, they are all advertising clips for the military apparatchik.
What you are saying sometimes sounds like straight-forward anti-Americanism.
I don’t care. It’s not like I defend the German way of life or German politics. From childhood on, I’ve had my own head and that has also been my biggest obstacle: I never play by the rules. I never got connected to anyone and my movies have been the result of my will to make them happen against everybody’s resistance.
What do you mean?
Harvey Weinstein never called me to ask if I wanted to make a movie. I have never had any support of third parties! And that’s why the last 25 years have been very tough, even though I made 33 movies: It was resistance against the subsidy system of German channels, American studios, and the movie festivals. And that’s what makes it easy for reviewers to rip you apart: There’s no call from a big studio telling them not to.
Have you become the film director people love to hate?
Certainly the one for which they have half of the article written before they even start: Uwe Boll who got the Golden Raspberry, who boxed against the critics, bla bla bla. I have read that stuff 280.000 times because journalists repeat what they find on Google. But who knows: Rampage 3 is my last movie, and after a few years without Uwe Boll movies they might start seeing things differently.
In how far?
They might dig a little deeper into the actual content of the movies: Especially Tunnel Rats, Postal, Assault on Wall Street, Darfur…
…some of which had decent reviews.
If I get an ok review, that’s great news. But if Darfur had been made by Tom Tykwer, it would have won at the Cannes Film Festival. Some of my movies had a ton of potential to do well at festivals. But look at Hotel Ruanda and look at Darfur: These movies weren’t so different. But Hotel Ruanda was pushed and promoted by different well-liked celebrities, Darfur was pushed by me.
You have also made video game adaptations and action movies. How seriously are you taking that kind of work?
With Postal, I wanted to make an expensive movie that came across like trailer trash. But if you watch it, there’s excellent CGI in it, 30 to 40 speaking parts, even small parts have great actors like JK Simmons, Seymour Cassel, David Huddelston. And they all had fun. Before they had never seen a script like it. But to answer your question: Taking a movie seriously – like Darfur – doesn’t automatically translate to a bigger audience or more acknowledgement.
What does the “trailer trash look” achieve?
The Postal Dude, the main character, is the hero of the white trash: He got fucked over by his job, his wife, and the world. He is a loser! The look had to fit: People have cheap wigs on, it’s all styled absurdly and has an over the top story – but I feel that it works.

“You try make a genre movie based on a video game in which a bloodsucking half-vampire runs around”

Cheap wigs and weird dialogues underline the story?
The center of the movie is a character called Uncle Dave, who has built a cult even though he just takes everyone’s money and fucks every girl he can get his hands on. But in real life, the character has been outdone by the real gurus! The idea to do a movie that’s over the top is to bring it closer to reality than a ‘realistic’ look could.
In writing, there’s the concept of “pulp writing” – first derided as sensationalist and popular, but also celebrated as an art form. You have used stars, action, or Nazi characters in some films… is it fair to say you make pulp movies?
With the video game adaptations, yes. Bloodrayne 3, which is set during WWII, is a total pulp movie. But with some movies you don’t have a choice.
Try make a genre movie based on a video game in which a bloodsucking half-vampire runs around – you have to shoot like I do. I always hated movies like Underworld or Resident Evil: They take themselves too seriously, while I tried to be more cheesy: More pulp, more blood, more sexiness, more harshness – but also more fun. That’s what I like, and it’s why I prefer the old Star Wars movies to the new ones: There was more humor and character. I don’t care that Chewbakka is a man in a monkey costume because I felt the character was good. So I do more old-fashioned moviemaking, more pyrotechnics, silicone, costumes and not so much CGI. And with stupid movies that are made for entertainment, I enjoy that style more but the critics don’t. Underworld didn’t get great reviews, but definitely better ones than I did for Bloodrayne. It looks like the audience follows the critics.
Do you feel misunderstood?
Maybe. Perhaps I didn’t get what the fans of the comics or games wanted. They are more into the stuff that takes itself very seriously, but which isn’t entertaining in my eyes. I love movies that are trashy – like Guardians of the Galaxy.
When you have tried something different – like using improvisation or handheld cameras – you were promptly criticized because it appeared too trashy…
Shooting handheld means you are much closer to everyone, don’t need to build camera tracks or have a dolly crane on set. What I want is for the actors to freely act and us to just follow. In movies like Darfur or Rampage, that led to a lot more improvisation and you want the actors to dive more deeply into their characters. The technical aspects should be secondary and the story and the characters is what we need to focus on. In other movies I used a lot of CGI and green screens, which I always found horrible.
…the audience seems to disagree.
They are more willing to pay for something that looks like it was shot in a big studio. Why else have they been going to the same movies for eight years? It’s inconceivable to me how anyone can still go to watch The Avengers of X-Men. It baffles me: The movies are horribly produced, horribly acted, and I don’t give a shit how great the CGI looks because I already know what they are capable of.
What do you mean?
When a new Independence Day comes out – another horrible movie franchise, by the way – I know they can destroy the world with CGI. Put 80 artists in a room for seven months and you have the end of the world in perfect, photorealistic 3D. It looks like there’s a market for this every two months. The story of Hollywood is: “Bigger bigger bigger, 100 million in advertising and we have a new franchise.”

“Movies never changed anything”

Your last movie, Rampage 3, is also a sequel, though.
You have to see Rampage like Boyhood: It’s a trilogy where we follow a terrorist for ten years, a long movie in three parts. I didn’t want to stop making movies before finishing that story. And this time, he shoots the president of the United States… it’s very political. But the most interesting bit is to follow a domestic white terrorist who looks like a white supremacist even though he is a total leftie! Everything he says is my opinion: He wants to take money and power away from the super-rich. It’s an underestimated trilogy that will grow over time, at least among fans, because it is such a political statement. Not messing around like the Bourne movies, but something much more real.

Still from Rampage 3.

Still from Rampage 3.

Is it your final statement to the critics?
Not only to the critics but to everyone. 25 years ago, I spent an evening with a mathematics professor in a bank in Frankfurt. He demonstrated with statistics how inequality in developing countries leads to violence, more bodyguards, and more gated communities. Now, 20 years later, we’ve become like that in the West: North America and Europe have made the decision to pamper the rich and dissolve the middle class, making it very unsafe for everyone. Once 70% are part of the underclass, the world becomes an unsafe place – all because we don’t have a redistribution of wealth through proper taxes. We need to change the system to use the money for the common good.
If you’re so political, why have you stopped making movies?
Movies never changed anything. They may cause a discussion but they don’t change reality. I’m 51 years old and I feel like it’s time to do things that make a difference. I hope to become politically active in some regions, I already support PETA, for example. Moving away from movies will give me more free time. And since I’m not good at just hanging around, I’ll naturally start getting active and work on political goals.

Trash Talks: what our garbage reveals about ourselves

Philosopher Elizabeth V. Spelman on the surprising relation between us and the things we throw away.

There is a great deal of buzz about trash: books, conferences and online journals are awash in talk about it. The Discard Studies website, for example, provides a comprehensive and regularly updated list of sources.
One of the main reasons for such widespread attention is that human habits of trash-making around the world have come to pose enormous problems for human and non-human life and the health of the planet — though it would be disingenuous to suggest that such problems are new or that they are evenly distributed across neighborhoods, communities, nations: for example, the USA regularly dumps its electronic waste in countries such as China and Ghana, multiplying whatever ill effects are produced by those countries’ own waste-making. My aim here, however, is not to join the pressing and important conversations about the growing menace of trash. Rather, it is to bring attention to the many ways in which references to trash have played a crucial role in our attempts to make sense of our lives and to articulate relations among us. We may want trash to be out of our immediate sight and smell, but not very far out of mind. I develop these ideas in considerable detail in Trash Talks: Revelations in the Rubbish, and offer a taste of some of my reflections in what follows.

A synonym for useless

“Trash” is just one member of a family of terms we use to describe that which we have judged to be useless, never or no longer of value. We have ready at hand a trash lexicon to mark our disgust, disdain, or distance: “Those oranges belong in the garbage.” “This computer is a piece of junk.” “What a colossal waste of time.” Or the fierce battle cry of the warrior philosopher, “That argument is pure rubbish.”
But our invocations of trash, waste, garbage etc. go far beyond snarky judgments to the effect that something or someone is useless or contemptible. We appear to have found it quite useful to call upon the rich resources of the trash lexicon in our accounts of the kinds of beings we are and how we are positioned vis-à-vis one another. Many distinctions among us that we seem in no hurry to give up turn out to track differences in our connections to trash, waste, rubbish and their siblings. “Trash Talks” explores six such distinctions, identified as those between the (1) the Knower and the Known, (2) the Fat Cats and the Stragglers, (3) the Scathed and the Unscathed, (4) the Designed and the Disorderly, (5) the Enlightened and the Unenlightened, and (6) Reliable and Unreliable Judges. (Readers are welcome, indeed encouraged, to add to the list.)

  1. The Knower and the Known.
    Want to get the dirt on someone, to ferret out something about them they’d probably prefer not to be known? Celebrity watchers and narcotics agents know how to do it (often testing legal limits to such scrutiny): comb through their trash. That will put the scoundrels in their place!
  2. The Fat Cats and the Stragglers.
    Eager to create and maintain superior social status? Make it as obvious as you can to others that you can afford to be wasteful—to have much more than you need, by any reasonable standard, and to employ rafts of workers clearly engaged in taking care of your goods. That anyway was the recipe Thorstein Veblen, in his classic (though not uncontested) “The Theory of the Leisure Class”, saw put to use by members of the leisure class in late 19th and early 20th centuries, a recipe some current observers see in the building of what colloquially have come to be called McMansions (not to mention McTrumps). The point of such display is not, of course, to invite others actually go through your trash (see [i]) but to make sure they have no doubts about your enjoying an economic standing that allows you to be wasteful. This is not to say that all those having such standing engage in conspicuous consumption, only that such consumption often has been a handy way of establishing relative position.
  3. The Scathed and the Unscathed.
    Whether considered contaminated on account of the nature of their work, or assigned such work on account of the alleged impurity of their very being, sanitation workers around the world rarely are lauded as valuable members of their communities. Indeed they often are treated as disposable themselves, despite the indispensability of their labor to the health and general well being of those communities. Examples are hardly limited to the Dalit (formerly the “untouchables”) in India, as Robin Nagle recently has made clear in her “Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City”.
  4. The Designed and the Disorderly.
    Charles Darwin reluctantly but ineluctably came to believe that the wastefulness he observed in nature was at odds with the idea that this world is the work of an intelligent designer. The tension he experienced is alive in current debates between many evolutionary theorists and a hearty coterie of proponents of Intelligent Design. Part of what sometimes seems to be at stake is the kind of account we are to give of our species: are we the exquisite product of a fabulously intelligent designer, or just another event in nature’s aleatory, wantonly wasteful parade?
  5. The Enlightened and the Unenlightened.
    Plato and the Buddha warned humankind that dissatisfaction is a steady companion of desire. Though neither of them addressed worries about the trash likely to be created as a result of such dissatisfaction, they certainly wouldn’t be surprised by our prodigious production of refuse, and no doubt would be alarmed by the extent to which dissatisfaction’s star has risen: hyper-consumerist societies count on consumers’ eventually ceasing to be pleased with their purchases.
  6. Reliable and Unreliable judges.
    Some of us know waste when we see it, others of us don’t — or so it is alleged — and the stakes involved in establishing the category into which you fall can be very high. In John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” (1674), at the root of Eve’s disobedient plucking of the forbidden fruit is her confident belief that she is a better judge than God of what constitutes waste: she’s no fool, she knows that surely the proper use of the fruit is for it to be eaten, for its potential not to be lost. God, the story goes, disagreed; bye-bye Eden. In John Locke’s “Second Treatise of Government” (1690), the implication is clear that settlers from afar are entitled to property rights over territory occupied by the “wretched inhabitants” of the Americas because the latter fail to see, Locke insisted, that land that is not cultivated is going to waste, its potential unrealized.

Trash disposal, in 1972. Not much has changed.

Trash disposal, in 1972. We still rely on trash as a reference to distinguish the superior and the inferior.

It is not surprising that terms used to denote the disvalued and decommissioned show up in efforts meant to establish that some people or things are superior to other people or things, whether that superiority be epistemic (in terms of knowledge or of judgment); social/economic; or metaphysical (in terms of the very nature of states of being). We may be insistent upon keeping trash and waste and their siblings as far away as possible (for example, on the shores of people we judge to be less worthy specimens of humanity than ourselves), but we maintain quite intimate connections with trash, waste and their relatives to the extent that we rely on reference to them to do the dirty work of trying to drive home invidious distinctions between the superior and inferior, the better and the worse, the worthy and the unworthy.
We don’t seem any more ready to give up those projects than we are to stop trashing our communities and our planet.

On a Thursday

Getting lost in memories, on trash day.

Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar. – Percy Bysshe Shelley

Ten o’clock in the morning, another alarm snoozed too long. The sun’s rays, sprinkled on the white sheets, have gone progressively from a gentle warm to an uncomfortable hot, and the early morning, indigo silence has given way to the bustle of a city well into its day.
Eyes still closed, she observes: today is Thursday. She parts from the pillows and puts on her robe, double knot around the waist.
The small steel mocha is in the kitchen, in the same spot on the counter as it was yesterday. And has been since the day they first set it there, years ago, till they could find a better place.
That spontaneous, three-euro buy long ago, on a road trip through Tuscany. The old stove that had to be coaxed and wooed to work, in a friend’s kitchen in Sant’Angelo. The first cup of coffee the mocha proudly brewed, which tasted like garden soil. That he drank with a smile nonetheless and declared the best he had had in his life.
Now it smells strongly of the many cups of coffee it has since, more expertly, poured. This morning, same as yesterday, it pours one cup more. She sips it on the couch she remembers them buying with their savings some time back, and contemplates this day she already knows, has already lived a few times.
Today there will be letters and emails to answer, phone calls and the bed to make.
The clumsy, wonderful first time he tried to make the bed himself.
Groceries to be acquired, dinner to be cooked.
Frozen pizza and chopped lettuce, on the floor that first night. The for-no-reason, romantic dinners, the dozens of dinner parties since. The lazy Monday night take outs, the Thursday night pairings with wine, dancing in the kitchen, stove forgotten, dinner left to burn.
Shirts to iron, a week’s worth of laundry to do, dry, and put away.
Bubble baths wrapped in those dryer-warm towels, Sunday mornings in those sheets. The day, three years ago, the exact shelf and aisle, where a younger version of him and her first picked them out.
A distinguishing note: the trash to take out. Today is, after all, Thursday.
When did coffee become just coffee? When did the white couch turn grey? She really must have overslept; today looks just like yesterday. She wonders what happened to the color, the laughs, the poems she used to have. What else she absent-mindedly, lately, threw away with the trash.
The bin by the couch is full to the brim, overflowing with the remnants of other days; bits of ribbon, an old newspaper, landscape cutouts from travel magazines. Plane tickets and movie stubs, out of focus photographs. She kneels by it and rummages through, looking for the life she misplaced.
Drafts of letters, half written, unsent; receipts for paintbrushes and bouquets. Last month’s utilities bill, the synopsis of a ballet. The program of an evening of chamber music, a recipe for chocolate soufflé. An empty bottle of Saint-Hilaire,
Love at the first glass she tried, it must still be here, the poetry, the love. She cannot have used it all up.
Suddenly, a silver chocolate wrapper studded with dark blue stars. Baci, her favorite, one, two, five of them. The bin was full of stars!
A summer in Florence, 2015. The first bite-size piece of chocolate and hazelnut, wrapped in a love note. ‘We choose our joys and our sorrows long before we experience them,’ it read. Gibran, like everything, sounded better in Italian.
Un bacio is one kiss, baci are many, and of chocolates and kisses she slowly remembers hundreds, since that first one they shared.
Love Note number 7 is Dickinson: ‘Till I loved, I did not live enough.’
‘Love is the poetry of the senses,’ Balzac. Note number 139.
‘Grow old with me,’ writes George Sand. ‘The best is yet to be.’
‘In dreams and in love there are no impossibilities.’ János Arany, number 42. The sun bounces off the shiny notes as she pulls them out one by one. The fog lifts as she reads the last word; she knows where she left her life.
She rushes back to bed and starts the day over; today is Thursday. Eyes still closed, from the walk-in closet, she picks out a white lace dress.
Today she will make coffee again, and the bed, wear opal earrings and ballet shoes. Answer correspondence in verse, iron shirts to jazz. She will cook with wine and use the bottle as a vase for wildflowers she will pick. She will empty the bin, and tonight there will be new Baci wrappers to fill it with.
‘Yes, there is a Nirvanah; it is in leading your sheep to a green pasture, and in putting your child to sleep, and in writing the last line of your poem.’ And taking out the trash on Thursday.
Seven o’clock in the evening, another day gone too fast. The sun’s rays are receding quietly, the neighbor is playing Chopin. ‘[…] Love coming out of the trees, love coming out of the sky, love coming out of the light.’ Same as every day, same as yesterday, except today is Thursday.

"Trash is a snapshot of our life"

Photographer Gregg Segal portrayed friends and strangers lying in seven days of their own garbage. Between polished eggshells and used syringes he found a lot of shame, pride and contradiction.

Gregg Segal is an American photographer based in California. See more of his work on his website.

Gregg Segal is an American photographer based in California. See more of his work on his website.

With this project, you portray something that most people don’t think about too much: trash. It is an undesired byproduct of something we want and yet it tells us a lot about how we live, consume and who we are. Was that the idea?
Yes, trash is in a way instant archaeology, giving us a glimpse at our value-system. It is a snapshot of our way of life. Trash defines us. Where you shop and what you eat reveal your socio-economic standing. Hopefully in 100 or 200 years, people will look back and think “can you believe how much trash that society produced?”.
Looking at the pictures, the characterization of the subjects is done by showing the garbage they produced over seven days. How important was it to you, that the people lay down in their trash?
As you said, we usually disassociate us from the trash we produce and my idea was to go against that and make a graphic connection between the trash and the people responsible for producing it. The message is pretty straightforward: You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.
7 Days of Garbage_Milt 60238
Despite all the filthiness depicted in the pictures, the subjects are usually portrayed quite glamorously and not derogatorily.
Yes, despite the heavy subject, the pictures are meant to be looked at and enjoyed. Just because the context is such a serious or yukky one, doesn’t mean the pictures should be ugly. Contradictions and opposites make for compelling pictures.
In most pictures, the person really fits and matches the items of trash spread around it. Were there instances where you were surprised by a person’s trash?
The problem is that some people probably edited their garbage to portray themselves in a certain light. That was disappointing but also interesting because it really showed to me how trash can shape the impression we want people to have of us. There was one guy who even cleaned his garbage. He came and brought eggshells that he had cleaned for the occasion. He didn’t want to appear messy or slackerish. Another person was the exact opposite and we found used syringes and tampons in her garbage. Another person brought a milkshake but it smelled like rotten chicken. It was interesting to see how people dealt with the disgust-factor of their trash: does it bother them to show the nasty reality or do they want to polish it?
7 Days of Garbage_Gaby_57947
7 Days of Garbage Snow Art&Sean 75121
Is there a picture that resonates better with the audience than the rest?
That is a very subjective choice because everybody identifies with something else, but I found that the pictures showing middle- or especially upper-class citizens and families in their trash to really capture people’s attention. It’s one thing to see a poor person lying in trash but to see a rich family in that surrounding – you can’t help but look and ponder the contradiction of the image. The more money you have, the easier it is to distance yourself from the ugliness of the world.
Yes, but trash is something that all humans share. Some might be able to keep it out of their life, others live in it or of it, but we all produce it. It is one of life’s common denominators.
Very true. I would be interested to see the results if I would replicate this project in some other countries or in some other time even. 200 years ago, people just did not produce a lot of trash. There was no packaging, nothing like that. We all produce trash but it differs greatly. Also the awareness to the problem. The project received much more attention in Europe than over here in the US because I think that in Europe, there is a feeling of “we produce this together, we deal with it together”. Here, people think that they can do however they see fit.
7 Days of Garbage_Mariko 60134
7 Days of Garbage_Michael, Jason, Annie & Olivia 66189
You and your family are also portrayed in the series. What made you also include yourself?
I don’t just want to point my finger at others and pretend like I don’t produce any trash. I also contribute to the problem. The real problem is awareness. It is easy to forget about your impact on the planet’s well-being. Consider how many people go and grab a plastic cup and drink from a water dispenser. They use that cup for maybe five seconds but it will harm the environment for many years to come. There is a complete imbalance between the usefulness of some items to us and the damage they do to the planet.
Were you interested in that topic before you embarked on this project?
Very much so, that lead me to the project in the first place. Even as a kid, I was amazed by the fact that people just put all their garbage in a bag and then a truck would come and make it disappear. I never understood where it went. It still amazes me today. Of course I know by now, but there is so much about garbage removal and disposal that many people are simply very ignorant about. It is a common misperception that recycling can fully solve the problem. The energy needed to recycle a bottle of plastic is so high that it again damages the planet in some other way. There is no easy fix.
Do you think that is easier to educate or raise awareness with a project like this than with a shocking and polemic campaign that would show dead animals or starving children on a landfill?
This project is definitely subtler and it doesn’t immediately hold you responsible for the planet’s problems. It’s easier to discuss with people if you don’t point the finger at them. But I do of course hope that people identify with the project and thereby the problem.