Trash Never Looked So Beautiful

The Photo Blog
May 28 2013 11:20 AM

Trash Never Looked So Beautiful


Barry Rosenthal

Many people think of beach trash as an unfortunate eyesore. But Barry Rosenthal, who spends much of his time on beaches in gloves and knee-high boots, combing through glass, plastic, and other junk, finds artistic inspiration in what others leave behind.

Rosenthal describes himself as a lifelong collector. As a child, he stocked up on baseball cards. And as an adult, he keeps collections of frying pans, clocks, and carnival horses, among others items.


Barry Rosenthal


Barry Rosenthal

But his main interests as a photographer are plants and other natural subjects. In fact, it was during a plant-finding expedition at a bird sanctuary on Long Beach Island in New Jersey three years ago that he first discovered his interest in trash.


“I couldn't find any plants I wanted to shoot, but I started finding all this colorful stuff washed up on the beach,” Rosenthal said. “I found tons of stuff and started collecting it and spontaneously doing this as a side-project.”

Rosenthal said by arranging individual pieces of garbage into intricate collages, he’s able to give common objects more value. And though he said there are obvious associations to be made between his series and environmental issues of waste and pollution, it’s not necessarily his mission to bring these concerns to viewers’ attention.


Barry Rosenthal


Barry Rosenthal


Barry Rosenthal

“I'm displaying what I find, and it's open to people’s interpretation, but there is the message of, ‘Why don't we care for things a little better? Why can't we clean up our own backyard?’ ” Rosenthal said.

At first, Rosenthal would collect the objects, arrange them, and shoot them all on scene with a small mobile studio. But after securing studio space at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, he was able to expand his work. He set up a larger backdrop and started keeping a vast library of garbage. This has given him the opportunity to pick and choose among objects to create more cohesive themes. Still, he said, his collages are limited only to what he’s able to find on his hunts.

“It's not like going to Wal-Mart. I take what comes up,” he said.

Rosenthal’s expeditions have taken him to waterfronts in New York, New Jersey, and even Florida. These beaches, though, are not the types of places you’d go to tan or surf. Rosenthal said they’re often next to highways and are littered with more types of trash—including cigarette packs, bottles of alcohol, and shotgun shells—than he’d ever had time to photograph.


Barry Rosenthal


Barry Rosenthal


Barry Rosenthal

Though the mess is good for his series, he wishes the beaches were better maintained and trash weren’t so ubiquitous in our natural places.

“I grew up in Massachusetts, and I was always at the beach in the summer,” Rosenthal said. “We're producing more [garbage], so there seems to be more stuff than when I was a kid.”


War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.


It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

The Only Good Thing That Happened at Today’s Soul-Crushing U.N. Climate Talks

  News & Politics
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 4:45 PM Why Is Autumn the Only Season With Two Names?
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.