Trash or treasure: a new photographic series reveals the hidden beauty in the things we throw away

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  • A Swiss photographer has created a fascinating series of stills captured on a trip to his local rubbish dump. The pictures not only find beauty in the banal, but they might also make you think twice before chucking out your old things...

    Hanging around outside a rubbish dump may not be the most glamorous way to spend your weekend, but that didn’t deter Swiss photographer Sebastian Magnani.

    Armed with a camera, he waylaid visitors to Zurich’s waste and recycling centre as they arrived to drop off unwanted items.

    Sebastian says he wanted to document our relationship with material items – particularly those that we consider disposable.

    ‘I shot the people who came in their cars and asked them for a quick photo,’ he says. ‘For each picture I had maybe 10 seconds. There was a long snake of people trashing their stuff.’

    Men, women and children arrived at the dump throughout the day, carrying everything from ironing boards and old TVs to ski boots and a wooden sledge (this is Switzerland, after all).

    Individually, the items Sebastian has photographed appear quite mundane, but when you put them all together they suddenly become provocative, raising questions about present-day attitudes towards what’s disposable and what’s not.

    ‘Most of the items were still working,’ says Sebastian. ‘Of course, items like the fire extinguisher were finished and the TV was retro and old. But, the boy with the sledge, that still works! Also, the books, the crate, the ironing board for the clothes; all working.’

    Where previous generations would have made do and mended or perhaps passed no-longer-needed items on to friends or family, the modern instinct is to throw away – not exactly ideal given we’re currently facing down both economic and environmental crises.

    Sebastian’s artistic take is that the things we throw away reflect the innate human desire for change, what he calls ‘a constantly repeating pattern to satisfy our needs’.

    That’s as may be. But we’ve decided that in future, before we chuck things out without thinking, we’ll instead consider embarking on an upcycling spree – which, let’s face it, is much more fun than a trip to Ikea anyway.

    Feeling inspired? Find out how to upcycle a vintage or reclaimed storage unit

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