Many of you know those spectacular images of burning computer parts and beautiful, sad young men, taken in some God-forsaken corner of polluted Ghana where the ‘West’ has dumped all its obsolete toys to be ‘recycled’.

Now, here’s Southern Africa’s answer: we can do apocalyptic burning and degraded human beings on rubbish tips, too. Portuguese photographer Jose Ferreira’s images of the “Trashland of Maputo” , taken in the dump of Huléne (just a few meters from Maputo’s airport), are supposedly meant to make us move beyond the “caricatures of the poor and homeless, who are often camouflaged between common jokes and cartoons from the civilized world.” He adds that  the people in these images, “who have empty eyes and shapeless smiles,” make the experience of their lives “more human.”

It’s not that lives like this do not exist; it’s not that this is a compelling subject (why do we allow such suffering? Why permit such degradation in fellow human beings?), or unworthy task to force those who are either ignorant of such suffering, or usually like to turn the other way to really stand and contemplate the lived reality of these Others. It may be that Ferreira makes us think about all that we discard. But there’s something that’s rehashed here – too much of the whiff of exploitation, for the value of shock, rather than an invitation into a space of contemplation (and possibly, towards action).

And please: I know this isn’t about computer parts, or the discards of the West. But if you want to make your mark as photographer, why copy Pieter Hugo’s “Permanent Error“?

Further Reading

No more caricatures

Engaging seriously with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s life could help us understand how South Africa got where it is and where it’s going.