Last night I saw a documentary film titled "Wasteland", one of the best I've seen in a while. It documents the making of a series of photographs by Vik Muñiz, the Brazilian contemporary photographer. The film delves into the lives of garbage pickers/recyclers in one of the world's largest dumps, outside of Rio de Janeiro. Most of Muñiz's work consists of making assemblages or drawings out of found objects and photographing them. The photographs are printed large scale. In this case, he wanted to make photos of the people that work at the dump, sell them at a contemporary auction, and bring back the money to help the people by creating a learning center for themseleves and their kids, and by helping them establish an association that would allow them fight for their rights.
Between the sales of the photographs and jury prizes the film has garnered, they brought in around $250,000 for the people there. The workers were involved in the fabrication of their own portraits, which were about 40 feet long. The junk was laid out all over the floor and photographed from above. Many of them had worked at the dump for years, but the experience of making art allowed some of the workers to realize that they were able to do other things with their lives. The documentary was produced by Fernando Meirelles, the director of "City of God". It's now available on DVD, Netflix, etc.
These are the kinds of people and situations I grew up around in Cuba and in junkyards in Miami, so the film had an impact on me. Muñiz grew up in these types of situations as well. In some parts of the film, he realizes that he too could have easily been caught up in this world. As he grew up, he grabbed on to small opportunities and moved forward. It was nice to see him give the same glimpses of possibilities to people and to see what they did with them. Above and below are some clips and some of the work.