The Private Life of Trash

Artist Katherine Hubbard documents a year's worth of consumption.

Humans are naturally wasteful, and we have been since the start of time.

It’s nothing to be proud of, certainly, but it’s also not entirely unforgivable: We would know so much less about our ancient ancestors were it not for their trash. Perhaps we might benefit from accelerating this process, learning about ourselves from the prodigious amount of waste our modern culture of consumption produces—4.5 pounds per person every day, nearly one ton per person annually—before it is buried and then unearthed in some future century.

In that spirit, starting in 2005, the Brooklyn-based artist Katherine Hubbard embarked on a year-long project to archive her weekly consumption, as evidenced by the contents of her trash can. The resulting 52 images are a personal anthropology of human residue.

They afford us a rarely seen perspective of a mostly private activity, executed without thought and almost immediately forgotten. On a larger scale, they encourage us to be more aware of exactly what and how much we are throwing away—and the way our trash affects our surroundings.

“The way we live is informed by our products and production,” writes Hubbard. “The things we produce now and the way we live because of this production are unique to our time. These are behavioral portraits expressed through the inevitable refuse of living.”