SARATOGA SPRINGS — Ten works line the wall inside Dining Room Gallery of the new Saratoga Senior Center. Gaze upon them intensely, for they seem to trick the eye. Or do they? They boast appearances of multi-dimensional proportion. They look alive.
“Renewal,” says Terri-Lynn Pellegri. “Once-living energy, repurposed.”
Love Compost Saratoga Collaborative depicts 10 new original works captured by Pellegri’s camera eye. The exhibition, on display at the new Saratoga Senior Center, opens with an artists’ reception on Sunday.
“Composting is really pretty simple,” Pellegri says. “Nature knows what to do. For me, it’s the breakdown of once-living matter – food waste, vegetables, tea bags, eggshells – and the natural decomposition of that which then aids and nourishes soil. For me, it’s identifying living/ non-living. Of the earth/ not of the earth. I saw the difference between living and non-living matter.”
The photographer’s passion for her composted subjects began in earnest on a spring day in 2014 during a seemingly random moment alongside her kitchen sink, where a batch of collected peels and scraps sat in a small compost container.
“I remember the light shining through, and I had this moment. I saw something and it just stopped me. I thought: Oh, there’s something here that looks beautiful,” Pellegri says. “For me, photographing is about seeing, about being absorbed in the moment. I got lost in that moment, looking into my compost, into this food waste. I was stunned. I went and got my camera and started photographing.”
She has learned to look at the by-product of what we consume; We eat the eggs, for example, but dispose of the eggshells, the gnarly ends of broccoli and render the nubby parts of carrots as simple discard.
“It’s about the light and it’s about allowing yourself to have that moment,” Pellegri says. “To be in the moment without judging it, without analyzing it; Just giving myself that moment To Be. To see.”
“We put in one big bundle anything that is not useful to us anymore. Trash. We don’t want to see it. It all goes in a bag and off to the landfill,” Pellegri says. “I just couldn’t put any more in the landfill, so I started composting. And I really fell in love with it. It’s hard to explain. Just watching these things go back to the earth, where it had come from.”
She began showcasing her composting photography work in 2019, visiting area businesses that were composting - Caffe Lena, Saratoga Tea & Honey, and Four Seasons among them - and creating compositions with the materials presented.
“It’s allowed me to shift my thinking. It has totally changed my relationship with food, and with waste,” she says.
This past spring, Saratoga Arts announced Pellegri was awarded a grant as part of a NYSCA regrant program for LOVE COMPOST Saratoga Collaborative, to include 10 new pieces of photographic artwork - Compost COMPOSiTions - featuring five works that honor and celebrate entities and businesses that have a compost program in place, and five works of her own, all with companion narratives.
“Skidmore College has an amazing program, Lily and The Rose, The Mouzon House, Hattie’s and Corina Contemporary Jewelry in Ballston Spa – even though she’s a jewelry shop, she takes food waste from other businesses and composts. So many things are interwoven and what I really want to share is the feeling of connectedness: what we do, who we are as people, what we do in our community, and how we communicate with one another,” Pellegri says. “The thread of commonality between the businesses, all taking food waste and compostable material and creating something.”
Across the ten works there are unlikely pairings. Tea bags collaborate with pistachio shells, clementine peels become dance partners with dried irises, scraps of carrot, and the paper casing of garlic cloves – all colorfully captured and repurposed even as they fluctuate through the varied points of their own natural decay.
“My attempt was to bring them together, to life,” Pellegri says, “to celebrate them in this visual expression.
An Artist’s Reception will take place 2-4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 24 in the Dining Room Gallery of the new Saratoga Senior Center, located at 290 West Ave., adjacent to the Y.