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huntington Beach

A Photo Assignment with a Purpose....

Huntington Beach... Pick up your Trash!

Huntington Beach... Pick up your Trash!

I recently started teaching photography and documentary classes at the Huntington Beach Art Center. It has been an interesting process trying to organize 3 decades of knowledge on the subjects. Things that are second nature to me at this point and that I don't even think about are necessary pieces of information to know. So, as I dig through my own brain it's challenging to organize all those thoughts in such a way that will make sense to others so they can grow both creatively and technically. 

I had my first advanced photo class the other day and I went it to it thinking "these people are advanced and know what they are doing so what the heck am I going to share with them?" I began the class with a quote from Socrates that I ran across lately that seemed appropriate and is now becoming a major theme of my teaching philosophy. The quote is, "I can't teach you anything. All I can do is make you think."

So that's what I'm going to do. 

The first assignment to get everyone thinking and creating was something that I concocted from my experience making a film entitled "Imagine it". It was a film about the power of imagination and creativity that was based around a creative challenge Stanford put on for their entrepreneurship students. The task the Stanford students were given was to create "value" from a single package of post-it notes. That's it. They had 4 days to do something that created value of any kind. They also had to present their results in a lecture hall for all to see. The results were amazing and the student's solutions were brilliant. 

So that's what I did with my students.  I decided to challenge them  to do the same using photography as their medium. My students are typically at least twice as old as Stanford students so I'm curious how this will play with a more "experienced" group. My guess is that by the end of this some will love it and others will absolutely want to kill me. So to avoid the latter, as the instructor I told them I wouldn't ask them to do anything I wouldn't do myself. So this morning I created my photograph (see above). 

Before I issued the challenge,  we talked about the process of going from getting inspired to having that trigger your imagination to then creating something based upon what you imagine.  In the course of making my film, I interviewed a wickedly smart gentleman named Randy Komisar who suggested that to get started, find something to "rub up against, something to oppose, or dance with." So that's what I did.

I regularly take walks on the beach in the early morning and it always pisses me off when I see trash on the beach. As of late there has been an inordinate amount of trash and it's really been pissing me off. So, This morning, I took a garbage bag with me on my walk and collected the trash I saw, sprinkled in a few of my post-it notes with messages on them and photographed it (I Picked it all up afterward and threw it where it belongs... in the trash). I also included a post-it note with written on it. (It's an app that enables you to photograph trash you see and it geotag it. They are building a database from the info to help clean up the planet. Thus far they've tagged over 1 million pieces of trash and are applying that data to find solutions.)

As I was collecting my trash I found myself getting even more angry, especially as I saw what kind of trash I was finding... Lots of candy wrappers and "disposable" cups from McDonalds and other fast food companies, kids toys, a tennis ball, a lot of plastic bottle caps and of course water bottles. I found a mascara pen, a liquor bottle and one thing that surprised me (not sure why after thinking about it) a used condom and condom wrapper (2 separate places). Thankfully I had gloves on because there was no way I wa not going to include those in my picture. 

So as I see it, here's the value I have created thus far.... environmental value for picking up trash and showing a problem that will hopefully motivate people to not litter and/or pick up trash, promotional value for and health value for me. I say the latter because I got plenty of exercise bending over hundreds of times on my 1 mile walk and carrying what added up to about 10 lbs of trash. 

So if you're still reading this I now ask you to help me add more value. Please share this or my instagram or facebook post and help me get more visibility to help prove that there was in fact value to what I have begun. Maybe we'll even get some people (including you) to sign up for so you too can start tagging trash that pisses you off. 

Thanks for reading. Have an awesome day.



PS Interesting note... It looks like I created some additional value from my project as several months after posting this, my image has reached Australia where apparently they have trash on their beaches too. Happy to lend my photo to the cause. Check it out at