What happens to the mountains of clothing that even a thrift store can’t sell—the rejects of the rejects? That was the question that fascinated photographer Wesley Law, whose friend was working as a sorter at a Goodwill in St. Louis, and told him about the massive recycling facilities for unsold clothing and other thrift store finds. “He talked about these gigantic machines that crush all the stuff that gets thrown onto a conveyor belt,” Law says. “I spent the next nine months trying to get access to the warehouse facilities, and finally, through their PR company, I was able to get in.”
His persistence paid off. The resulting photo series, Baled: Photographs of America’s Recyclables, documents compressed mounds of stuff—familiar objects from plastic toys to lingerie—suggesting a world of characters and stories that will never be told.
Originally, Law wanted to photograph the massive warehouse space in St. Louis where the discarded objects were forged into “recycling bales” as a landscape—albeit an industrial one. “But when I went back a second time […] I got a closer look into these bales, and I noticed they had their own personality,” and he decided to take an in depth look at each bale. “You can get lost in all of these bales.”
The project was self-financed. Now Law is attempting to recoup $8,000 with Kickstarter to cover his expenses and get more exposure for the project.
And what about the bales? “Basically, they’re sold,” says Law. These least desirable objects find their final resting place as painters’ rags, or they’re sent to Texas to be recycled, or shipped overseas from the port of Los Angeles.