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Are You Done With That? Photographing The Results Of Your Good Will

Consider the stuff of our everyday lives — the clothes, the sheets, the toys and games. It's essential for a time, but inevitably, eventually, it all gets trashed — or donated.

And that donation process can seem a bit like magic. We drop off our used stuff, and the items disappear — or so we think.

But what truly becomes of it? Where does it go? And what does it look like?

Freelance photographer Wesley Law wanted to know. So when a friend told him about St. Louis' Goodwill Outlet store — one of several throughout the country that serve as liquidation centers for Goodwill retail stores — Law was intent on finding a way inside.

It took him nine months. And when he finally got access, he found an awesome panorama — thousands of items leftover from Goodwill stores around the country, crammed together in bales as large as 5 feet tall by 7 feet wide, awaiting transport to new destinations.

Initially, Law thought he'd shoot the scene as a landscape, to capture the size and scope of the facility and its contents. But on a second visit, he started considering the bales individually.

"I realized when I got close to these things that they each have their own personality. They have their own identity," he says.

Some were made entirely of old bedding; others were bundles of clothes and cardboard. Law says he considered each bale to be an artifact of real experiences and moments in peoples' lives.

He says seeing the plastic bales filled with the dolls, toys and games of childhood was especially moving.

"I think when people look at what's embedded in these things it evokes our past and our memories," he says.

Of course, Law says, it would be nice if we consumed and wasted less. But he says his work has no specific environmental agenda.

"I'm not getting on a soap box or a high horse. This project is merely showing the bizarre beauty in these huge bales," he says.

For the next phase of the project, Law hopes to make large-scale prints to show in galleries, and he's looking for funding through Kickstarter. After that, he'd like to make more photographs — this time, of the bales at their final resting place. The problem is, he doesn't know where that is.

"I tend to get curious about things. I want to find out where these things go," he says.

He's heard they get shipped to Los Angeles and Texas, and perhaps Asia to be recycled or sold. But Law says he has some more investigating to do to — and for now, he's still searching for the final resting place of all our good will.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jordan G. Teicher

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