Having always been a collector of things – bottle caps, scientific apparatuses, cameras, fabrics, fibers, dirt and coffee cups to name a few – my eyes are constantly scanning the environment for interesting articles of any sort to add to my sets of curios. Often these items are the discarded materials of life, never amounting to much material worth. A ruddy scrap of paper with an only partially decipherable message holds far more interest to me than items deemed valuable by the cultural establishment. For me these things are the true indicators of society. I find a different kind of value in the litter and refuse left behind as people pass through life. These articles indicate something far more telling about the social landscape and man’s impact on the environment. And, there is something about garbage that is universal even though individual items are unique.
Riding my bicycle through Audubon Park in New Orleans in 2004, I happened upon a soda can flattened so thoroughly that it was almost paper-thin. The item intrigued me in it’s state of utter reduction so it was saved amongst my many found “treasures.” Some years later and a thousand miles away in eastern North Carolina a similar can was spotted – also from a bicycle – in the parking lot outside a doughnut shop. This discovery caused me to consider that the physical state of a discarded item can speak volumes about society. First, that someone could be so callous as to throw their trash on the ground instead of in a receptacle, or better yet a recycling bin. But also, the flatness of the cans revealed the presence of motor vehicles, continuously driving over and over them for a long duration of time, and thereby an urban environment. Therefore there were many people that also passed the cans by taking no notice or care.
This harkened the question if perfectly flattened cans existed in other urban areas. If so, would there be unique regional brands marking the territory – almost like the scat of modern humans? These cans would then represent a universal disregard for the environment – at least by some soda-drinking members of society and those that pass them by. These images reveal how people have the tendency to dispose of items without regard and others then turn a blind eye to trash in the streets. Regardless of cultural differences, people generally act the same in some way or another. Despite the logos and text, slogans, type or language marking them, each of these cans demonstrates the common universal act of littering.