Ottawa photographer turns trash into artistic treasure

Ottawa artist Joyce Crago creates art from garbage. What her arrangements say about the people who threw it all away is open to interpretation.

Joyce Crago turns her lens on the strange beauty of the stuff we throw away

Detail from The Basics (Inauguration Screw You), a photograph by Ottawa artist Joyce Crago. (Joyce Crago )

Ottawa artist Joyce Crago turned her back on a legal career to make trashy art. Literally.

Crago's latest exhibition, Flotsam, is a series of colour photographs of garbage.

"Taking garbage and hopefully making something cool out of it brings order to it," Crago observed. 

The series, currently on display at Exposure Gallery on Wellington Street West, draws on the diverse and sometimes strange stuff people toss away at such events as Donald Trump's inauguration in Washington D.C. 

There she found a Lifesaver candy on a string, a cigarette butt in a holder and a baked potato.  

"Who leaves that behind?" Crago asked.  

Visual appeal

Sometimes Crago assembles the objects to form a personal commentary on the events themselves. Sometimes the arrangements simply appeal to her visually.

Her photograph titled The Basics (Inauguration Screw You) features that potato, some screws and American coins.
Pink (W.M.W., Feathers) is composed of items collected after January's women's march in Washington D.C. (Joyce Crago )

Another pair of photographs, assembled from objects Crago picked up after the women's march against Trump, includes a sock, scraps of anti-National Rifle Association pamphlets and feathers. The result, called Pink, is arranged in one of the photos to resemble a question mark. 

Crago said that was intentional, meant to capture the prevailing mood after the event: "What's going to happen next?"

Crago said even though she might have her own ideas about each piece, it's ultimately up to viewers to derive their own meaning from the photographs.

"I want to make a connection, but I don't want to tell them what to say."  

Dumpster diving

Crago said she's always been fascinated by garbage, and admits not all her finds end up in a gallery. 

"I found my best pair of jeans on Albert Street on a January day," she chuckled.    

On one occasion, her trash collecting turned hazardous when she fell back into a commercial dumpster after gathering garbage.  

Crago managed to make her way out, and the end result was a photograph of a nest of nails, screws and a coffee filter.  

"I photograph to understand. I used to be a lawyer and words were my go-to, to understand, and now it's photographs," said Crago. "I think you understand intuitively"
These items were collected in a dumpster behind Ottawa's Art Bank. The result is called Art Bank, Paint Brush. (Joyce Crago )