An accidental thesis on waste and pollution

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David Brandon Geeting’s vivid and playful images of his Brooklyn neighbourhood contain a cautionary message

David Brandon Geeting’s latest book, Neighbourhood Stroll, is an object of contradictions. The photographs are alluring, but they depict junk and debris; the design is colourful and bright, but the book itself is weighty; and although the project began as a casual afternoon activity, it developed into an “accidental thesis” on the critical issue of pollution and the climate crisis. “That kind of dichotomy is present in everything I do,” Geeting reflects. “I like it when the audience has that ‘wait a minute’ moment. If it was totally dark and eerie, it wouldn’t be as interesting.”

Geeting is known for a playful style and gaudy aesthetic that is rooted in still-life and studio photography. His quirky compositions have landed him commissions for brands such as Nike and Comme des Garçons, and editorial shoots for titles including Vogue and The Face. Although Geeting’s latest publication retains his trademark style, its approach was different: he created it entirely outside, on the streets of his neighbourhood, Greenpoint in Brooklyn, New York.

© David Brandon.
© David Brandon.
© David Brandon.

“The world is always more interesting and more surprising than anything you can dream up,” says Geeting, who admires photographers such as William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, and Martin Parr. “They could pull images out of thin air, and that was always something I appreciated outside of building a world in the studio.”

Neighbourhood Stroll began as a way to escape the studio and gather visual inspiration — an exercise that began during Geeting’s student years at the School of Visual Arts. But, when he reflected on the collection of images from the previous three years, the photographer realised that they were no longer reference points — they were standalone pieces.

“I realised I was collecting images made from all the weird things that people left behind,” says Geeting, whose book presents image after image of accidental still-lifes built from the street. The usual suspects — beer cans, Amazon packaging and plastic bags — are arranged alongside tightly cropped photographs of street signage, storefronts, and an ominous New York skyline. “It goes on and on,” says Geeting, “like an old, lost library book”.

© David Brandon.
© David Brandon.

Coupled with a subject like pollution and waste, in some ways, Geeting’s lighthearted approach feels out of place, but the photographer sees this as a way to draw viewers in. “I’m interested in things that are out of the ordinary, and the personification of objects — can a chair look sad, or can a plastic bottle look happy?” Feeling these emotions, being perceptive, and making something special out of that is an integral part of Geeting’s practice — inside and outside of the studio.

Neighbourhood Stroll may not trigger an immediate emotional response, like images of burning rainforests or plastic oceans, but its freshness sticks. In addition to the book, the cover image can be removed and folded out into a poster — a friendly reminder to pick up your litter, but also, perhaps, an attempt to see the beauty in the world, just like Geeting does.

Marigold Warner

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.