One man’s trash is oftentimes another man’s treasure.
You’ve heard that expression before, but for many people who frequent Yellowknife’s solid waste facility, it’s a philosophy that drives their way of life.
That philosophy will be the subject of a forthcoming documentary that was shot in the NWT capital between 2009 and 2014.
Elliott, who’s based in New York City, says the film will tell the story of how Yellowknife’s dump has changed over the years, and how many residents have bought into what she calls a ‘thrift culture’.
“Yellowknife, as far as I could tell, had by far and away the largest dump that’s still open to the public,” she said when asked why she came to Yellowknife.
Elliott, now shooting her third feature documentary, has made a career of capturing regional culture in photography and film.
But in Yellowknife, the Princeton University graduate says she found something different in the way residents handle their garbage.
“I think it was really interesting to sort of see that there were people in Yellowknife, the salvagers especially, who were really committed [to the environment],” she said.
“They really felt invested in kind of making sure that stuff was recycled and kept out of the landfill. There also seems to be a real investment in thrift. The thrift culture is really important in the North.”
Because Yellowknife can be so transient, it’s not uncommon for people to drop off higher quality items at the dump before heading out of town.
That’s a dream scenario for salvagers, who divert other people’s unwanted goods from the landfill by claiming them as their own.
“It’s an attitude that you don’t see everywhere,” said Elliott. “You know, it’s a little bit out of fashion in the rest of North America and I found it really refreshing and interesting.
“It really struck me as different than the way a lot of other cities see their waste.”
‘I will never buy an inflatable snowman again’
Elliott says she found a wide variety of ‘weird’ items over the course of her shoot in Yellowknife.
“One of the weirdest [things I came across] was a collection of marionette clown dolls, but it really ran the gamut,” she said.
“The most common thing, by far and away, were Christmas decorations. I will never buy an inflatable snowman again in my life.”
Other notable finds, she said, included quality furniture, porn collections, caribou carcasses and even wedding dresses.
While Elliott admitted to being shocked by some of her discoveries, she believes many of them can be explained by Yellowknife’s ‘thrift culture’ and geographical isolation.
Since wrapping up her shoot two years ago, Elliott has teamed up with a producer and an editor in hopes of debuting Salvage this time next year.
You can track the project for yourself on Twitter.