Currently pursuing an MFA at the University of Houston, photographer Jeremy Underwood focuses on the environmental impact of humans on the landscape. By utilizing found detritus and constructing sculptural forms and then documenting them in the landscape, Underwood plays with preconceived notions of beauty, landscape, and rubbish. By constructing forms out of plastic bottles and wood scraps and then photographing them, reconstructed yet in situ, he draws our attention to the landscapes in which the objects sit. But we’re also faced with the challenge of reconciling whether or not we should accept that these intricately-constructed pieces are beautiful in spite of the factthat this are garbage that blocks waterways, litters the shoreline, and endangers animal life. And Underwood only documents a tiny slice of this sort of ‘human debris’ in the waterways of Houston, while there’s a ‘trash vortex’ in the Pacific Ocean which covers such a large expanse of ocean that scientists don’t actually know how much plastic material is even in it.
The objects that the Underwood creates for the photographs are then left at the site to be found, pulling interesting ethical concerns to the fore: does constructing something out of garbage in order to document it and comment on its presence and impact on the environment, then simply leaving it where it was found, undercut the commentary? Do we, as the humans who are responsible for this trash, have a responsibility to, once documenting it, to do something about it? I don’t believe Underwood was either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ to use the garbage and then leave it where he found it, but it raises an interesting issue. Once the garbage has been turned into art, whether or not it is left at the site it was constructed, is it still garbage? Does the impetus to remove it shift or disappear once it has become an aesthetic object?
See more of the artist’s work at jeremyunderwood.com.