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Recycled Realities by John Willis, Tom Young

Near the homes of photographers John Willis and Tom Young is a paper mill that sits in the otherwise pristine and picturesque climes of western Massachusetts. For Willis and Young, this site is one of both aesthetic and philosophical contradictions: despite its verdant locale, the mill—with its smokestacks and countless bales of discarded paper—brings to mind the dreariness of industrialization and the impermanence of life itself. But the factory is actually one where such litter is reborn as reusable paper. Willis and Young’s quadtone photographs transform this mill and the innumerable mounds of recyclable waste it processes daily into an indelible and evocative landscape. Recycled Realities is not a jeremiad foretelling the consequences of excessive waste, rampant pollution, or unbridled consumption but rather a profound meditation on the hidden connections and meanings that linger beneath the debris and detritus of everyday life.
These unforgettable images of discarded paper from the printed world trace the processes of emergence, revelation, and redemption that make the cycle of life possible.


“John Willis and Tom Young’s haunting photographs transform a New England paper mill factory and its mounds of raw material—recyclable printed matter cast off from the insatiable publishing industry—into an evocative archeological landscape, a contemporary Babel.”
—Deborah Martin Kao, Chief Curator of the Harvard University Art Museums

“Recycled Realities is a book by two true visual poets, and it is difficult to imagine a richer or more fortunate collaboration. At a time when population and excessive consumption are deeply serious concerns worldwide, John Willis and Tom Young have made splendid, positive, lyrical images out of the waste and debris left over from our busy lives. ‘Man buys what he destroys,’ Frederick Sommer reminds us, and then goes on to assure us that it is the nature of the poetic act which secures our place in a world we do not control. Recycled Realities is such a poetic act and a marvelous visual accomplishment, all at once.”
—Emmet Gowin, Professor of Photography, Emeritus, Princeton University

“In this wonderful book, the momentary and continually changing reality of the physical present is displaced by the ubiquitous and seemingly permanent static image: the photograph being the most disquieting of these. In Recycled Realities, evolution is witnessed as an inevitable process whereby all things and beings are recycled by the one true—and apparently eternal, but still largely unknown—reality: nature, the ultimate recycler. And nature is an extraordinary visual event, as is revealed in these remarkable photographs. Recycled Realities is ultimately a sad story, but happiness abounds along the way.”
—Carl Chiarenza, Fanny Knapp Allen Professor of Art History, Emeritus, University of Rochester

“John Willis and Tom Young find surreal juxtapositions among texts and images pressed together in bales. Their long views emphasize our voracious consumption of paper products and the industry it has spawned, while close-ups form an exquisite corpse of collected waste. Together the photographs in Recycled Realities imbue the discarded stuff of everyday life with beauty, significance, and grace.”
—Syvia Wolf, Director, Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781930066489
Publisher: Columbia College Chicago Press
Publication date: 03/01/2006
Series: Center for American Places - Center Books on American Places Series
Pages: 72
Product dimensions: 11.25(w) x 9.75(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

John Willis is professor of art at Marlboro College. His photographs are in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, among others. Tom Young is professor of art at Greenfield Community College. His photographs are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Polaroid International Collection in Germany, and the Fogg Museum at Harvard University.

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