Garbage Day | A Shutterbug Fights Litterbugs

Today, we tip our hat to a couple of locals who are making the East Village a greener, cleaner place.

Photos from “East River and the Sanctum we walk” by Alan Gastelum.

20120915_eastriver_0009Alan Gastelum Garbage collection this past weekend.

Some people go to the park to photograph birds, while others document trees. Alan Gastelum photographs garbage. This past weekend, he and 20 volunteers filled almost two dozen industrial-sized bags with trash gathered on the banks of the East River.

The cleanup effort at the East River Promenade was organized by the photographer along with Partnerships for Parks and the Lower East Side Ecology Center.

Almost two years ago, Mr. Gastelum, 31, an East Village resident who enjoyed relaxing in the park, began taking pictures of stray items that washed ashore: broken marine rope, dirty T-shirts, bottle caps, baseballs and toys. With every new tide, different items would wash onto the rocks, he said. Some of them, he kept: he has collected ceramic coffee mugs, wooden planks, single sneakers and plastic relics beaten smooth by the East River.

20120915_eastriver_0011Alan Gastelum

His photos are now gathered in a book, “East River and the Sanctum we walk.” Meanwhile, at least four times a week, he continues to take his Mamiya 7 camera to the stretch of land between 10th Street and the Williamsburg Bridge. He chose to use medium-format film (he develops a roll every week at Luster on Avenue A) because he wanted to take his time shooting. “The camera allows me to slow down and I am a lot more methodical about what I shoot as opposed to using digital,” he said. “I think it’s just the technicality with how it functions, so everything is manual it forces you to slow down and really think about what you’re taking a photo of.”

About a year ago, Mr. Gastelum began recruiting friends and local volunteers to clean the promenade’s cluttered water banks. “I realized there were things in the park that could be fixed,” he said. “There are parts of the park that are neglected and specifically with this debris buildup. I saw an opportunity to make it a project that could raise social awareness about what’s going on here in the park.”

Young children, families and “gentleman in their 70s and 80s,” he said, have helped fill about 10 bags of trash and just as many bags of recyclables each time.

“Chapter 2″ of the project will entail photographing and interviewing visitors to the promenade. The artist also plans to organize four cleanup walks every year. The next is tentatively planned for sometime this fall.

Related: Garbage Day | The Greenmarket’s Queen of Compost