discarded dog sh*t bags

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Over the past few years I have observed with increasing fascination the growing number of discarded dog sh*t bags (DDSBs – it feels to me that there should be an apostrophe after the b but I’m told this is not the case!) I encounter whilst out walking in open countryside, urban parklands and even suburban streets.

Yes, there are health implications in leaving dog poop around in its natural state, but frankly it’s far less easy to see the stuff (and therefore less offensive) if it isn't bagged. Yet, is this purely about not wishing to be caught by the ever-watchful dog police? Do we want to be seen to dutifully bag Rover’s poop, but then, surreptitiously, when no one’s looking, we dispose of the offending article in the nearest bush, throw it in the river or hang it on the adjacent fence (in a misplaced belief that once bagged it ceases to be the dog owner’s responsibility)?

Whatever the reasoning, the DDSB has very quickly become a feature of our global environment; well, those environments that don’t have more to worry about than dog poop.

[extract from book introduction by John Darwell]

I collaborated with Alan Ward (well Alan did most of the collaborating) in producing this individually numbered limited edition book that comes in its own dog poop bag (unused!). Proposing order and rhythm of the images and packaging and I wish to thank him for his support and friendship.

First seen at The Photography Festival Les Rencontres d’Arles

See images from the book

Reviews for DDSBs

Redeye photography network

Darwell’s new book, titled ‘DDSBs’, foregrounds this grim humour. Forty colour photographs provide a typology of discarded plastic bags containing dog muck. These are details from the landscape collected as evidence of our half-hearted commitment to the ecological cause. Drawing attention to these sights Darwell seems to want to rub our noses in it. In previous projects, he has documented large-scale industrialised contamination. In ‘DDSBs’ he shows how we all do our little bit, with help from rover, to despoil on the micro-level. In his brief introduction to the book Darwell writes that he has been contacted by people as far away as Seattle who have mistakenly thought these photographs were taken in their own local park. It seems that the local can easily become the global.

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Written by Steve Clarke

RPS Contemporary Photography Journal

DDSBs (Discarded Dog Sh*t Bags) by John Darwell

Julia García Hernández

There is something perverse about a photographer launching his new imprint with a book of photographs on the base subject of waste. Low in value as subject matter and low to the ground as waste matter, bagged animal excrement is elevated into our line of sight by the dog walker who flings it into the trees, and by the photographer who transforms the lowly and discarded into a collectable limited edition photobook. In presenting his book in its own black doggy bag John Darwell returns the shit to us, to take home and to treasure. In a gesture that is done with more humour than judgement, he performs a metamorphosis.

A metamorphosis occurs within the pictures also. Weighted with organic matter and of a limited colour palette the plastic bags sit like birds in branches, or mating pairs on the ground. And like birds, the bags multiply. In the zoomorphism that Darwell performs there is a satisfaction in returning to the natural world the organic that has been prevented from decay by human folly.  Like a little guide to British wildlife, the book is pocket-sized and grass green with most of its left hand pages blank for the twitcher’s notes. The letters on its cover are sunken, dissolving into the green ground just as canine excrement should be. Its full title is only revealed when the book is turned over and, even then, the reader is protected from offence by the replacement of the letter ‘i’ with an asterisk. The logo of a newt wrapped around the imprint name mynewtpress continues the book’s play with word and image. In this format Darwell gently asserts his polemic.

DDSBs was launched this year at the Arles festival. It comes out of the long-term project 1000 Yards; Or So that chronicles Darwell’s daily walks with his dog along a stretch of river in Cumbria. His observations of a single shoe left on the grass, of tyres caught up in a tree, or a balancing twig, are small studies of things, natural and man-made, that make up his local landscape. Using a similar visual language for DDSBs, Darwell obsessively re-photographs an artefact that has become increasingly ubiquitous, and presents it as a repeated motif of idiosyncratic human behaviour. This project extends beyond the local to cover open countryside, beauty spots, parks, cities, and suburbia across the UK. It signifies a collective mental state, not only of a nation but also of a Western society which, when persuaded to be socially responsible, has become environmentally irresponsible. A misguided action has become an international phenomenon that Darwell has already begun to record.

Darwell’s photographs can be read as a barometer of our age registering the ‘stuff’ that is overlooked, deemed unphotographable, or unworthy of our gaze. His projects are encoded with the indicators that signal ‘where we are at’. He shows us places of metamorphosis that fluctuate between one thing and another. The locations in DDSBs are non-specific, identifiable neither as urban nor rural. The discovered artefacts that mark the fringes of the dog walker’s path are both organic and synthetic. The action of the dog walker is both responsible and reckless. Towards the close of 2013 a selection of work from Darwell’s recent projects will form part of a group exhibition at Liverpool’s Bluecoat. This exhibition will examine a new vocabulary of landscape exploring themes that are familiar across Darwell’s practice. DDSBs confirms Darwell’s interest in human behaviour, and the patterns of behaviour, that at first appear eccentric but which form part of the bigger picture of human impact on the environment and our natural world.

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Written by Julia García Hernández