One Man’s Trash


[quote]Do you want to see the most beautiful thing I ever filmed? This bag was just...dancing with a little kid begging me to play with it. That's the day I realized that there was this entire life behind things.[/quote]

--- American Beauty

Barry Rosenthal is an artist who collects trash, primarily from beaches, and photographs it as “art”: “The beach is my flea market,” he states. When he encounters these objects, their original shape and purpose has become distorted.  For most of us, we scoff at these items as useless and ugly -- but for Rosenthal, they are the building blocks of a yet-to-be-formed aesthetic composition.  He reinfuses them with life and reassigns them value.

Whether it’s a broken comb washed to shore or the infamous “dancing” bag from American Beauty, perspective, mediation, and the vision of an artist can transform the mundane into the sublime.

When does something officially pass into the realm of the discarded, slipping from a place of desirable utility into the world of waste? Until the 20th century, even the most tattered garment or scratched surface would eventually find new life.  Ours was a culture of conservation and reuse, not single-serving containers and perpetual planned obsolescence. Today, however, even the slightest flaw can land an object in the dump (though certain imperfections can actually make one more desirable).

But what separates the Barrys of the world from the rest of us? Why is our trash his treasure? The answer lies in perspective and placement.  Ugliness, according to Plato, is a lack of harmony. And yet, he argues, there is beauty in everything.  So it makes sense that worn out, “beyond their prime” objects, when arranged in a harmonious way, would be pleasing to the eye -- compositions worthy of adoration.  The reappropriation of found objects is a type of reification that is so drastic it seems magical, a sort of wasteland alchemy.

Here are some tips for reframing your personal waste and appreciating the unsung beauty of everyday life:

  • movie_12766 WATCH: Check out the movie Waste Land: Brooklyn artist Vik Muniz traveled to the world’s largest garbage dump in Brazil and “painted” the catadores (self-designated garbage pickers) with trash -- a process that allowed them to reimagine their identities and allows us to rethink the potential beauty of trash.

  • tumblr_mnseicyb141qbycdbo1_1280 GET INSPIRED: Find inspiration for looking at your utilitarian objects as aesthetic masterpieces in this collection of “Things Organized Neatly,” a blog of user-submitted “collections” that tell a story and reframe our personal objects. (And, if you’re really inspired, submit your own!)

  • real-simple_300ACT: The next time you go to throw something away, challenge yourself to repurpose it in a new way -- or take a cleverly stylized photograph of it and preserve it as art. (Your cheat sheet is here.)

What "trash" have you transformed into an object of beauty? Tell us about it!