These Gorgeous Still Lifes Are Made From All Our Litter

The photos in Recycled Beauty look like a painting hanging a museum, but instead of fruit, they’re composed of the trash we throw away and hope to never think about again.

When she meets her friends, New York-based designer Diane Gatterdam reminds them to bring her some trash. Gatterdam, along with San Francisco-based photographer Laurie Frankel, has become a discerning garbage collector: The two artists are collaborating on a series of modern still life photographs made from discarded items they find on the street.


“We wanted to be inspired by something that was not inspiring,” Frankel says. “We decided to take something of no value, something that’s just so ordinary, and add something beautiful to it.”

They also wanted to help people reconsider what happens to everything they throw out every day, like the 60 million water bottles that end up in landfills. “That bottle sits in your hands for maybe 10 minutes, and then it’s out of your life forever and you forget about it,” Gatterdam says. “We wanted to take these ordinary things that we discard and not only make them beautiful but make them live on in these photographs.”

The images in the Recycled Beauty series, shot in daylight, ended up looking a little like Dutch still life paintings from the 17th century, with crumpled water bottles instead of silver goblets and rotting vegetables instead of the typical cornucopia.

“We’re drawn to that era and we’ve always loved that style of painting and art,” Frankel says. “But the similarity definitely happened organically.”

The compositions aren’t planned in advance, but made from whatever random objects the pair happen to find. They’ve worked in both New York and San Francisco, and are considering the possibility of traveling from city to city documenting the local litter.

As they’ve worked on the project, they’ve started seeing trash everywhere, and they’re hoping that seeing the images will help others start thinking a little more about consumption. “It changes walking down the street,” Gatterdam says. “I’m always looking to see what people are throwing away.”

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.