Every February the homeowners in my North West Coast city place their garden clippings on the street for municipal pick up. In a short-lived piece of street theatre, these piles and bundles of branches, sticks and twigs inhabit the boulevards for a few brief weeks and then disappear. This project records these bundles in documentary and altered images and creates a connection between this annual event and the disconnect to nature that underpins our urban lives.
I began photographing these street bundles because they have such character – exhibiting so clearly the level of enthusiasm and care of the gardener that created them. Whilst steeped in the everyday, each is completely unique, as they record a spilling over from private households into the public sphere in the urban landscape. My photographs also inevitably reveal something of the houses behind the bundles, raising questions of who lives there, and how do they live their lives?
At first glance these bundles reveal a positive example of sustainable citizenship, with gardeners recycling their waste to the advantage of our urban paths and parks whilst diverting it from the municipal dump. And yet are so poignant, involving the demise of once-living branches, often covered in the buds of leaves or blossoms that will never burst forth, and sadly echoing the old-growth logging that occurs just hours away. In natural forests leaves twigs and broken branches lie where they fall to enrich the soil and feed countless organisms. But in our gardens we tidy up and remove unwanted plant matter for the sake of appearances and convenience.
The bundles in these images exist in a cultural and economic system based on subjugating nature. Living things have become commodities, and we have interrupted and outsourced the composting and recycling of plant matter. What was once a natural process having by necessity become a transaction between taxpayers and city authorities, involving much labour and heavy machinery to create our suburban ideal of home.
It is to draw attention to this tension that I alter some of the photographs by painting out the backgrounds to isolate the bundles. By removing the context and revealing each bundle as an object the project moves from the documentary to the surreal. Visually, the images move from a potentially banal photographic typology to something more mysterious. The viewer has to make sense of the image and in doing so asks, what is this? What’s going on? In that process the deeper significance of these street bundles can be discovered.