Jeff Ferrell: American Dirt


The Reading Room, Dallas, TX, USA
(March 05–April 02, 2016)

Publication forthcoming 2017.



When you’re out there every day digging through d umpsters and trash piles, you realize that a lot gets lost—people’s lives, for instance. In fact most everything you find has in one way or another filtered out from the lives of those who once owned it, while still suggesting something of the pace and patterns by which they lived. An outgrown shirt, an old wrench, a box of tax returns, a garbage bag stuffed with toys – all are residues of decisions made, circumstances changed, opportunities taken or lost.

But amidst all this ongoing detritus of daily life there’s one sort of item that especially stands out: the discarded photo. Over the years I’ve found thousands of them, still pasted in old photo albums, layered into shoeboxes, stuck between books’ pages, other times fluttering loose as I sort my way through a big trash bin. And in encountering these lost images I’ve realized something: I’m seeing ghosts. There and not there, they tell stories that I can’t quite understand; freeze frames from some long lost movie, they’ve now come unstuck in time and space. As such they float within the machinery of urban life and urban waste, apparitions accumulating into a mélange of collective memory and collective amnesia, spectral presences awaiting their eventual, anonymous interment in the nearest landfill.

Unless, that is, I intercede.

–Jeff Ferrell

American Dirt is an exhibition of photographs found by Jeff Ferrell—the author of Empire of Scrounge—while dumpster diving. This accumulation of photographs is an archeology of American culture and the by product of oblivion and technological redundancy.