David Wolf Photographs

My pursuit of the unwanted and forgotten began when I could no longer ignore the astounding array of discarded things I came across in my neighborhood nearly every day. I was amazed to find so many poignant and telling objects along the street amidst a seemingly endless stream of cast-off appliances, furniture, clothing and toys. I soon started to carry a small camera wherever I went so I could photograph any potential find that caught my eye.It was not long before I sensed the underlying and more personal meanings of this fascination, and an attraction first left to chance quickly became the object of obsession. A three-year treasure hunt ensued, marked by daily forays throughout my neighborhood in search of what others no longer wanted.

Our relationship to these discarded objects mirrors our relationship to each other. That there are people who themselves have been left behind, in one way or another, is sadly clear. Early on I realized it would be important to consider these people in the context of this project, particularly the homeless, who are often the most visible and yet least seen among us.

It was difficult to photograph people who were so vulnerable, and who likely wouldn’t want their circumstances to be made any more public than they already were. I resolved to include them in such a way that their identity would be protected: none of the people in the series appear with their face visible. Their presence in Left Behind is a reminder that each of us is vulnerable to isolation: to becoming separate, alienated, even abandoned.

The more time I devoted to this work the more complex my aspirations became. I first envisioned the project as an installation of hundreds of machine-processed, 4 x 6 color prints: the familiar format and sheer number of the “throw-away” prints would reflect the everyday nature and vast quantity of the myriad unwanted things readily found on the street.

Somewhere along the way I began to bring home the occasional found object I just couldn’t leave alone.  I then imagined the walls of collaged prints would become an environment for displaying these things.  This idea took another step forward when I found a great looking old box spring, its rows of exposed coils perfect for holding pictures: I would incorporate photographs of discarded things with the things themselves to make sculptural pieces, and exhibit these photo/object combines among the hanging photographs. The wall-mounted prints could now be enlarged to various sizes to serve as counterpoints to the three-dimensional pieces.  (The first of these combines is called A Good Night’s Rest, and will be followed by two other pieces that use found box springs as well. I have also made a piece called Milagro from a headless plaster statue, and an untitled work that utilizes an old wooden chair.)

Through all of these conceptual variations my guiding practice remained constant: I photographed everything as I found it, without intervention or manipulation. Similarly, as the found objects became potential artworks I allowed their inherent qualities and current condition to suggest ways I could integrate the pictures with them, without altering the objects themselves.

From the start, Left Behind has seemed ideally suited to become a book. The suggestiveness of the images in relation to one another makes the material a natural for the sequenced flow of book design.  The work is strongly contemporary—very much about our culture now—and resonates with emotional nuance as much as social import.