Cooking Pot Bomber

Collecting aluminium pots and pans to make aeroplanes, Harold Tomlin, 1940
© National Media Museum, Bradford

Photojournalist Harold Tomlin took this photograph in 1940 when he was working for the Daily Herald. The description reads as follows:

‘The men are working on a pile of aluminium pots, pans and other domestic items, given by the public in response to an appeal by the Ministry for Aircraft Production in July 1940. The aluminium was initially required to build fighter planes, though little was actually used for this purpose, the appeal did however act as a morale booster as the public felt they were ‘doing their bit’ for the war effort.’

The idea that the vessel someone’s grandma used to make beef stew became part of a vehicle dropping bombs on someone else’s grandson sends my mind spinning. Even if the majority of the aluminium donated was not actually recycled in this way, the gesture asks us to imagine the life of an object. Think for a second about the meals that will have been cooked in these pots, the families that will have sat together to eat those meals, the arguments about washing up.

In a post-Freudian society where such overwhelming emphasis is placed on psychic motivations and drives, despite the increasing material suffocation of capitalism, to rethink the materiality of the object in terms of the life it has led, is one that may lend us a useful model for thinking about sustainability and diminishing natural resources.

With processes of recycling now more advanced than ever before, we not only need to think about how objects themselves are reused but what happens to the elements of those objects at molecular level. Whether we send something off to landfill, burn it for energy, or separate its components for recycling, the materiality of objects we dispose of does not just disappear. Whether they become fighter planes or are buried underneath golf courses, pots and pans, like everything else are simply transformed. After all, perhaps there is no such thing as rubbish, just wasted resources.

The Rubbish Collection opens at the Science Museum on 16th June.