Till Leeser

Waste No. 19 | Waste No. 16, 2006

Photograph, digital art print, mounted on aludibond | 150 x 300 cm

37.2 million tons of waste were collected in 2008 in Germany from private households. So in terms of figures, every German citizen threw away 450 kilograms of waste. This level of households waste production has been more or less constant since 2003. Around 20.5 million tons of organic waste, paper, glass, and packaging were separated by the citizens themselves, thus more than half (55 percent) of the waste was already presorted when it was collected. Statistically, around 220 kilos of household waste and bulky waste were produced per head. 143 kilos were recyclables like paper, glass and packaging.

I photographed the series »Waste« in the years 2004 to 2008. Most of the pictures were taken on a collection station for recyclables near Hamburg. I photographed collected waste that had been piled and compressed. From a distance, the waste bales looked colorful and fun. However, close up, the smell of the waste was almost unbearable. This contradiction between the repellent and rejected on the one hand, and the aesthetics of covers and containers that had been something else before they were thrown away and compressed into spotty entities on the other hand, appealed to me. It reminded me of the wild gestures of Pollock’s paintings. This subject attracted me very strongly. I often try to use the camera like a brush so that the fist impression is of a painting, and only on second sight does it reveal itself as a photograph.

In the photographs, the bales of waste are alienated into abstract, painterly patterns—or you could say that this kind of aesthetic transformation is also a form of recycling that turns waste into art. Through the visual enlargement, which is only possible because of the special image definition or focus, I attempt to produce a cheerful lightness of colours and fragments of forms which is in no respect reminiscent of the stinking bales of waste. Only on closer examination does the beholder see writing on the remnants of packaging and thus realize that this is waste. And yet, the beauty of the picture remains. This contradiction is not solved.

With my pictures, I don’t want to moralistically wag my finger and point to the sins of our throwaway society. Rather, I try a playful approach to waste and thus jar perception and point out ambivalences.


Till Leeser (*1949) lives and works in Hamburg, Germany.