Dirty plates: A photographer’s glimpse into the mess of everyday life

By Silvija Daniunaite

Your everyday mess might well be someone else’s idea of artistic beauty.

In her photography series, Monika Balu draws attention to the neglected and the mundane, aiming to catch what is often missed by people caught up in the rush of everyday life. Tracing people’s day-to-day activities, rituals and routines, this quirky photographer often turns her lens to the mess that is our daily life.

One of her recent, more abstract projects focuses on photographing plates of guests’ leftovers at a restaurant where she currently works as a chef.

Asked about her source of creative inspiration, Monika stresses the importance of her surroundings and personal experience.

Before climbing up the ladder and becoming a chef, Monika spent countless hours working as a dishwasher, cramped up in a small room next to an ever-growing mountain of dirty plates, bowls and cups. Racing against the clock one day, she had to stop and take a moment to admire the beauty that she saw in front of her eyes.

Trying to get through piles of unwashed dishes, Monika found herself mesmerized by the  randomness of colors and combinations that came along with each plate. She found some plates to be so beautiful that she didn’t want to wash them, she told The Scoop, quickly adding that it wasn’t only the aesthetics of dirty plates that she found magical and captivating while shooting the series over time.


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Having a keen eye for detail, the young artist realized that “photographing certain aspects of people’s daily activities can reveal a lot about human habits.” Monika devoted herself to learning as much as possible about the patterns and differences in human behavior and our preferences when it comes to eating and enjoying food, delving behind the façade of the picture-perfect life that seems to be dominating contemporary social media.

She quickly noticed that when it came to food, people “were afraid of unfamiliar things, sometimes leaving 70% of a meal unfinished.” Reorganizing food to one side of the plate while eating was another noticeable pattern she uncovered over the course of her project.

Monika was pleasantly surprised that her project received such positive feedback from the public. To this day, she keeps receiving photographs from friends, strangers and fellow artists who have spotted interesting patterns on their own plates.

Monika Balu
© Monika Balu // Instagram

“People got my idea. It’s all about perspective. Aesthetics can be found anywhere, you just have to look around,” she told The Scoop, with that ever-present sparkle in her eyes.

Deconstructing the aesthetic status quo in her photography series, Monika steps outside the traditional realm of aesthetics to make it more inclusive of ordinary human experience. Her interest in the mundane aspects of our daily existence has so far translated into photography series on littered dance floors, trash cans and trash bags as well as drying laundry.

Her passion for photography has followed her since early childhood. Growing up in a small village in Lithuania, Monika has always been a child of nature, drawing inspiration from untouched wilderness and its unpredictable beauty. As a child, she began observing the deepest corners of Lithuanian forests, documenting all the small details and patterns that caught the attention of her curious blue eyes.

© Monika Balu

Studying Fine Arts at the Minerva Academy in Groningen and getting introduced to contemporary art opened up new pathways to creativity for Monika to explore as a photographer. Monika dedicated her work to the exploration of the human life, zooming in on the neglected and the mundane.

“I believe that my role as an artist is to reveal the relation between people and objects, and to tweak this relationship in order to uplift the negligible details of mundane life,” she told The Scoop.

The themes that Monika chooses to explore in her photography series can seem somewhat unusual for most who stumble upon her work for the very first time. For her, it all comes down to capturing the raw side of humanity and immortalizing its unpolished beauty through eye-catching perspectives that push the boundaries of how we perceive and think about our daily existence.

To see more of Monika Balu’s projects, visit her personal website www.monikabalu.lt or follow her on Instagram.

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