What they didn’t know was that many of those spaces either bordered or were part of more than 300 documented illegal dumpsites. The two photographers, who met in 2001 and had been looking for a project to work on together, teamed up with volunteer cleanup agencies to understand survey data (both statistical and GPS) about the dumpsites that includes the type of terrain, difficulty of removal and cleanup, the percentage of scattered trash, and distance to the nearest residential area. One of their greatest resources was Allegheny CleanWays, a local non-profit that aids and organizes community cleanups.
Holtz and Zadikow were not only surprised about the number of dumpsites but also the extent of the dumping.
“The issue of dumping in Pittsburg is widespread, reaching to the edges of the city’s limits,” they wrote via email. “However, it is a problem that many locals don’t even know about. We quickly learned that the culture of dumping is boundless, affected almost every neighborhood and socio-economic area in the city.”
In 2012, they began working on a project that focused on these often bucolic or otherwise inviting spaces where, very likely, illegal dumping had occurred. They titled it “50 Greenspace Dumpsites.” All of the greenspaces they selected were either within or on the perimeter of an outdoor space, sometimes only 100 feet from “where people go running, hiking, play sports, and bring children to play.”
“The series of photographs appear to be landscapes of public spaces at first, but when we couple it with data about the space, we introduce the possibility that this site exists as more than it first appeared,” they said. “By creating a bridge between the unsuspecting landscape image and the truth about what happens there, we are attempting to bring a new level of significance to these places.”
The bridge is straightforward: Attached to the images is the collected data about the sites including a QR code they hope to eventually use to link viewers to a separate site with more images and documentation about the dumping.
Holtz and Zadikow said that there has been a learning curve while working on the project since photographing the sites wasn’t as straightforward as they had initially thought. Since many of the dumpsites exist on steep hills and woodsy perimeters of residential neighborhoods it made finding them tricky; they learned, by teaming up with the clean up crews, how to identify hidden dumpsites by following various clues.
“We delved into a mass of data, mapping the known coordinates and observing patterns,” they said. “We learned that just because you can see the marker [for the dumpsite] on the map, it does not mean that the site is visible just by driving there.”
Holtz and Zadikow currently have work from the project in GRIT: The Urban Landscape at the Copley Society of Art in Boston, MA. Next year they will present the project at the Society for Photographic Education conference in New Orleans.