Photo Essay

A Society of Waste

Living with our waste

When I started photographing on the waste dumps of Central America the pictures were shot from a distance, with no specific purpose. They were made at random. From my original viewpoint on the periphery, the people, so small and distant, seemed like a race apart. These are not the controlled sanitary landfills of the industrialised world, but open depositories of waste. The air is filled with the smell of decay and the smoke of spontaneous fires, stoked by methane. Dogs, vultures and people scavenge. These people risk so much to squeeze an existence out of our waste. Who are they?

They are collectors. As I got closer, I began to appreciate them as individuals. Each goes off to his or her tasks in the morning and returns in the evening. Some collect bottles, others cardboard boxes or aluminium cans; some mind the store where the material is deposited. A family specialises in collecting bronze. In a shack made of cardboard, another family runs a cafeteria where the collectors buy soft drinks or tamales. Some are proud, others humble, some open and garrulous, some reserved, just as in the rest of the world. Some dominate, some are subjugate. Children work and play.

This set is more about the people than about the waste. I do not know whether the images come from my realisation that the people that live with the waste of our society are as much individuals as anyone else, or whether the realisation came from making the images. It is meant as a simple portfolio of images of people, in their environment, that are every bit as unique as the rest of us, and all members of the same society of waste.

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22 responses

  • Gary Benefield

    Gary Benefield gave props (10 Feb 2011):

    great work

  • Carlos Aviles

    Carlos Aviles said (11 Feb 2011):

    Impressive shots and essay. Voted

  • Tim E

    Tim E (Deleted) gave props (11 Feb 2011):

    nice to see a story with some substance behind it.

  • Devin Hayes

    Devin Hayes gave props (11 Feb 2011):

    Excellent read. Thanks for posting it.

  • Sean McMahon

    Sean McMahon (Deleted) gave props (16 Feb 2011):

    this is what documentary photography is all about. excellent work!

  • Alexandru Iedu

    Alexandru Iedu gave props (16 Feb 2011):

    Amazing work vote.

  • ! Mario Scattoloni ¡

    ! Mario Scattoloni ¡ gave props (17 Feb 2011):

    True journalism. It seems that beauty can be found in the simplest of places & during such moments as dire as these, truly impressive work. This is an exceptional essay & series of fotos.

  • Sonia Adam Murray

    Sonia Adam Murray gave props (17 Feb 2011):

    Oh YEAH/RAD!

  • Ope O

    Ope O gave props (18 Feb 2011):


  • Marc Olivier

    Marc Olivier gave props (19 Feb 2011):

    beautifully written and brilliantly photographed. gets my vote.

  • Renata Yagolnitzer

    Renata Yagolnitzer gave props (21 Feb 2011):

    Beautiful photography and story! You got my vote.

  • Rosa Maria Villani

    Rosa Maria Villani gave props (23 Feb 2011):

    my vote!

  • Isabelle Dethier

    Isabelle Dethier gave props (24 Feb 2011):

    voted brilliant reportage!

  • Audrey Mok

    Audrey Mok said (7 Mar 2011):

    Very well done! Voted.

  • Robin Perkins

    Robin Perkins gave props (12 Mar 2011):

    What incredible images, and a wonderful done story. You have my vote

  • Denise Sarazin

    Denise Sarazin (Deleted) said (23 Mar 2011):

    A great essay and an eye-opener for many. Got my vote.

  • Anthony Cronin

    Anthony Cronin gave props (23 Mar 2011):

    wonderful Photo Essay -- works very strongly together and great text too

  • Jim A

    Jim A gave props (23 Mar 2011):

    Awesome work!

  • The Man Who Isn't There

    The Man Who Isn't There (Deleted) gave props (28 Oct 2011):

    Great story!

  • Yaz Hawkins

    Yaz Hawkins said (28 Nov 2011):

    Another wonderful and very poignant essay!

  • Carol Arntsen Masiak

    Carol Arntsen Masiak gave props (19 Apr 2012):

    Impressive images and narrative - my vote!

  • Nadeem Shafi

    Nadeem Shafi gave props (21 Apr 2012):

    Story very nicely told in this essay and set of images, Chris.

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