Blaine photographer's project advocates for recycling

  • Article by: ANNA PRATT , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 4, 2014 - 3:04 PM

One day on a run, photographer Sarah Filipi got inspired to take photos of trash and to find ways to recycle it.


Sarah Filipi turns trash into art.

Photographer Sarah Filipi spotted a heap of metal clothes hangers littering the street when she was out running errands last Tuesday morning.

Despite some funny looks from passersby, Filipi didn’t hesitate to pull her car over to get an up-close shot of the unusual assemblage.

Then she grabbed an armful of hangers to recycle at home.

“I didn’t even get half of them. I feel guilty, like I’m driving away from a crime scene,” she said.

Filipi is artfully documenting the trash she comes across every day as part of a yearlong photo project that she began in September.

She dubbed the project “R-365” — the R stands for recycling, something she hopes people will take to heart. She tries to recycle, reuse or properly dispose of her finds.

A smashed-up soda can that Filipi picked up during a run last summer triggered the project. At the time, she had just quit a paralegal job to concentrate on her fine-art photography business, Sarah Grace Photography.

Filipi wanted to take on a project that would get her creativity flowing. The environmental aspect added to its appeal, she said.

R-365 is fun, too, she said. She finds excitement in the mundane, and she loves to score an interesting piece of garbage, even if she wishes it hadn’t gone astray in the first place.

Art and message

Filipi might be drawn to an object for the way it’s situated in the snow or grass, or it may be that a label jumps out at her. For example, a can that was in a snowbank and bore the word “happiness” stuck out to her one day.

Occasionally, she hangs onto pieces to incorporate them into staged photos. A cardboard box filled with these “treasures” includes a plastic figurine she found on a beach in Mexico; an old garden spade; a moldy baby bottle; a deflated graduation balloon; a bundle of blue fabric reminiscent of a hospital gown, and a chewed-up plastic ball.

“You wonder, why was this just flying around? How come nobody has picked it up?” she said.

Sometimes, she complements the items in her staged photos with a human element. Taking a fragment of red and white wrapping paper, for instance, she composed a shot with her own hand in the picture frame. She was wearing red nail polish, which played off of the wrapping paper’s design.

Common but not normal

Although litter is an everyday sight, a photo emphasizes that it “looks so abnormal. It doesn’t belong there. That’s the point I’m trying to make with the images,” Filipi said.

The project has made her more conscious of “everything that passes through my hands,” she said.

Now, when she buys something, she considers whether it’s recyclable and how long it will take to decompose. She carries reusable bags. She ponders possible reuses for things and more eco-friendly alternatives to materials that don’t disintegrate.

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