Untitled Illegal Dumping Project

Untitled Illegal Dumping Project traces Philadelphia’s protracted efforts to curb illegal dumping and littering through a series of vignettes about excess, neglect, and human behavior. Presented as both a multichannel video installation and a non-fiction feature film, the project reveals the complex ecosystem of the city’s many fraught campaigns to manage its own waste. Archival footage and audio recordings show these attempts not only through the labor of sanitation workers, but also through targeted campaigns meant to shape civic identity. As public shame for littering through the courts and the press became a tool to control behavior, certain groups, including human and non-human subjects, increasingly bore the brunt of the blame for the changing urban ecology and rise in unmanageable amounts of trash. Observational, contemporary chapters show the continued weight of this cyclical affliction - from the city’s use of surveillance cameras at known illegal dumping “hot spots,” to vigilantes combing dumping sites for evidence to identify perpetrators, and to the rise of Terril Haigler (aka yafavtrashman), who became a household name in Philadelphia by posting videos on social media of life as a sanitation worker during the pandemic. These efforts to undo and expose the covert assaults on the landscape challenge the pervasive belief that there’s somehow a culture of acceptance around littering, endemic to the city. Together, these vignettes form a surprising and complex picture of the city’s enduring relationship to trash.