Trash Dump Photographer: as rare as Timothy Bouldry

When I recently visited ISWA’s Scholarship children in Managua (see my October 11, 2016 blog) I had the opportunity to spend roughly 20 hours with Timothy Bouldry, the inspirer and organiser of ISWA Scholarship program that has already driven 40 children from Managua’s dumpsites to schools. I met Timothy in Antwerp, during ISWA’s 2015 Annual Congress. In a few minutes, I was attracted by his passion and his deep understanding of how daily life is organised in dumpsites’ communities and the social phenomena related with them. I think that besides being a great photographer (some of his photos were used in ISWA’s Roadmap for closing the dumpsites report, but  you must see his work at www.TimothyBouldry.com) he is a great sociologist too. Or maybe, he is a great photographer just because he is an excellent sociologist, or vice-versa. Well, in any case, I can ensure you that Timothy is a rare persona, as rare as it is to find someone that identifies himself as Trash Dump Photographer. Thus, it is my pleasure to host Timothy’s post today. I am sure you will enjoy it, and if you need him, do not hesitate to contact him at shootforchange@yahoo.com

“When I first tell people I photograph trash, I usually get a mixed reaction of sarcasm to bewilderment that I am serious. Though people soon open their minds and understand the many important and delicate facets that involve trash and why this dynamic plays an important role in this world.

Timothy Bouldry with Aracellys and Genesis

Timothy Bouldry with Aracellys and Genesis

My first experience of an open dump site was an apocalyptic one. The way you might imagine a war zone or end of days. It was 8 years ago in Central America’s largest trash dump, La Chureca in Nicaragua. In those days, the dump was stories high, miles long and uncontrollable. 1800 people were dependent on the dump. They lived and worked there alongside thousands of hungry animals, burning trash and a laundry list of health risks. It shocked me that this was allowed to happen to people, especially babies and children, but I also soon realized this was happening to our environment and atmosphere as well. I wasn’t photographing just trash anymore, there was social and environmental injustices involved too.

After stepping out of that bubble and back into my everyday life in NYC, La Chureca was all I could think about. It felt like witnessing a murder and walking away without saying anything to anyone. The situation was criminal. I began researching the topic of informal recyclers and ventured back to Nicaragua to record life there over the course of many years. I also branched out to other dumps around the world looking for unique reasons on how each settlement migrated there. I discovered a variety of stories.

I met an indigenous tribe from the Amazon who would travel one week in their boat to a trash dump looking for cloths. Later, hundreds of families moved to the area creating a huge generational change into a more modern world from their indigenous roots in
the jungle.

People moved because of lack of jobs in their country or due to natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunami’s. I met an indigenous tribe from the Amazon who would travel one week in their boat to a trash dump looking for cloths. Later, hundreds of families moved to the area creating a huge generational change into a more modern world from their indigenous roots in the jungle. There is also an increase in informal recycling in the Middle East from war refugees. In Honduras the dumps are controlled by the world’s most notorious gang, La Mara Salvatrucha. The stories are endless, ever changing and always relevant.

imgp7242I am fascinated by these communities. The way they live in their homes made from materials they found in the trash and how they survive. How they work together and know everything about their land, people and customs while sorting waste. If they were born in the dump or if they had a tragic shift of luck and lost their college, family and home in a natural disaster. I could feel the importance of their storytelling to the mainstream population, but there was also a big responsibility involved as well. I always needed to be sure that my effort was in the best interest to help support these communities and not exploit them. It felt the more success
I was receiving from my photography of them, the more I needed to contribute back. This is when I decided I would work best if I moved on location.

I am fascinated by these communities. The way they live in their homes made from materials they found in the trash and how they survive.

I sold all my possessions on eBay to afford the camera of my dreams and have enough money to start me out in Managua which would be a central hub to photograph and learn about the trash dump communities throughout Central America. It was a very difficult transition but one of the best decisions I could have made in order to help those I was concerned for and my pursuit as a trash dump photographer.

Later that year the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) invited me to their World Congress event to give a presentation about these communities. It was there that the president of ISWA and other board members felt compelled to help as well. That is how The ISWA Scholarship Programme was kickstarted. The concept of the program is to search out children currently working at the dumpsites and asking them to leave in order to focus on and pursue an education. So far the program has been a complete success. In total, the program has 41 ISWA kids. Children are of ages 3 years to 18 years old and range from kindergarten to college. Most kids have left the dump and adapted to a better lifestyle through studying. We also have kids that struggle with school and return to the dump. So we work with all the families individually and offer after-school tutoring. We also have a psychologist available for the children. We understand this shift in priorities is a difficult goal to achieve and the parents sometimes can make it even more difficult. However, step by step, all our progress and results influence change in one another. That we identify with one another as a friend and team member working together for a better result and most importantly replacing children’s time spent in dumps with quality-time and education.

I currently direct The ISWA Scholarship Programme from two trash dumps in Nicaragua and also continue my international work as a dumpsite photographer”. Learn more about Timothy and his work at:

www.TimothyBouldry.com and

www.ISWAkids.com

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