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Untitled 1980
urban setting, photograph, litter, city, composition of a photo, waste, city life, metaphor, consumerism, cultural waste, society, trash, debris, black and white photograph, nature,disguise, aluminum can, urban setting, photograph, garbage,

In this photograph by Grant Arnold, we see an aluminum can on the ground in an urban setting. The can is litter; the refuse of the city we are being shown. But we are being shown a very limited view of the city, and we must therefore assume that the photographer is showing us only this portion of the city for a reason.

The portion Arnold is showing us is the waste of the city. There are three elements to this  compositionArrangements of elements in a work of art.  which suggest this: the can in the foreground, the graffiti on the left of the background, and the metal piping and siding on the right-hand side of the background. Taken individually, the metal piping suggests the waste of structures, buildings and construction that goes unused. The can implies that there is the waste of consumers and the waste of the marketplace, while the graffiti implies cultural waste: that there is a segment of the society that has been discarded or left behind.

The rest of the image is cluttered with bits of trash and debris. Notice the composition, too - the bottom half is primarily bright, while the top half is much darker. This suggests that the image was taken at nighttime, and that the light source was close to the photographer. There is one other element to the picture, and that is the tree behind the can. Because the image has been made as a black and white photograph, the tree becomes part of the background. In fact, we might not even read it as a tree unless we look closely at the base of it. In Arnold's view of the city, the natural is disguised while garbage is everywhere.

additional resources Things to Think About
  • What does Arnold's picture suggest about city life? Does it seem to be a positive or happy place?

  • How might Arnold's city represent the rest of North American culture? Can you think of things that each of the components mentioned above might represent metaphorically?

  • What else might the use of black and white suggest? 
Studio Activity

Being a photographer

Imagine as you look at Grant Arnold’s Untitled photograph, or at any photograph, that you are the photographer.


Studio Activity References

Arnold, Grant. Curriculum Vitae. undated.

Arnold, Grant and Michael Turner.  Fred Herzog: Vancouver Photographs. Exhibition catalogue.  Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, British Columbia, 2007.

Author unknown. ‘Grant Arnold: Recent Photographs.’ News Release. Regina Public Library, August 20, 1981.


Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning