Trashing celebrities in the name of art

Celebrities, rubbish and art. These three words could perhaps only combine so seamlessly in New York, where an exhibition has opened featuring works made of rubbish salvaged from the trash cans of Hollywood actors, pop stars and politicians.

The so-called Star Trash Store in SoHo displays the work of two French photographers, Pascal Rostain and Bruno Mouron, who have spent 15 years rummaging through the rubbish of the rich and famous. Their simple technique is to gather a selection of items, arrange them on a black velvet background and photograph the result. The photographs sell for $6,000 (£3,300).

The photographers insist they are journalists rather than artists. "For us it is sociology and archaeology," Rostain told The Washington Post . "If in the next 50 years the work we do is helping people, students, to understand our society then we will [achieve] what we intended to do." He added: "Some people think we are like paparazzi. They are wrong. You have to think a little bit. We are sure of one thing - this is a real portrait of our society."

The exhibition reveals that the tastes of celebrities are not that different to those of mere mortals. A bin outside Marlon Brando's Los Angeles home provided crushed Evian mineral water bottles, numerous empty peach-flavoured diet Snapple ice tea bottles and wrappers for quarter-pound Hebrew National frankfurters.

The rubbish of the California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger suggests an - illegal - taste for Casillas Cuban cigars, as well as yielding some torn-up unflattering photographs of himself and a bottle of breath spray. A piece of paper found in Tom Cruise's rubbish reveals that the Top Gun star requires 13 products for facial care. The rubbish of Jack Nicholson contains a cheque for $1.25 that had been sent from a Charles Kelly of Boston. A note reveals that it was intended to pay for the postage on an autographed photograph he had requested.

The photographers work mainly in Los Angeles, obtaining the addresses of their subjects from one of the celebrity address maps available in the city. At night, armed with cardboard boxes and rubber gloves, they visit the properties. So long as the rubbish is left in the street as opposed to being on a person's property, the pair are breaking no laws.

Their nearest encounter with trouble came two months ago when they were scouring John Travolta's litter and he came out to see what was going on. The Pulp Fiction star did not speak to the French pair but they discovered that someone in his household shops at Tiffany and Neiman Marcus.

When the exhibition opened last week, the pair had to remove a photograph of rubbish gathered from the home of the chat-show host Larry King after tabloid newspapers spotted that his rubbish included nappies designed for adult incontinence. Mr King denied they were his and the Frenchmen said they had made a mistake. "We are journalists and this is not tabloid journalism," Rostain insisted. "We threw away everything that was medical or sexual."

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