In the documentary, “Waste Land”, based off of Vik Muniz’s project, Muniz moves to the world’s largest garbage dump in Brazil to create a whole new type of contemporary artwork. To begin his project, he photographs “catadores” – otherwise known as self-designated pickers of recyclables. Muniz’s initial intentions were to recreate these photographs from garbage pieces, however, as the documentary continues, we see that these garbage photographs turn the catadores’ lives around.
Muniz works with the catadores to create his artwork. He asks the specific catadores to collect recyclables and lay them accordingly on the projected photograph. This is done just as if I were to draw a portrait and fill in the darks and lights with different colored pencils. In this scenario, Muniz uses the different colored recyclables and dust to create his artwork. To make it more interesting, he left half the artwork in colored recyclables and the rest in “black and white” dust – making the portrait even more appealing to the eye. What seemed to be a simple project to complete turned to a project that changed the lives of the selected catadores.
Many of the catadores felt ashamed of their position in society. Some were prostitutes or drug dealers – ways that could only support them financially for food and clothes. The rest of the materials they had were from the dump. When Muniz photographed the individuals, they did not think much. They couldn’t imagine such a project or the product of what all the work would equate to. When compared to the other catadores who were not chosen, some were jealous or seemed to shun them. The other catadores not involved with the project seemed to believe it was some type of joke – they didn’t believe such a work could benefit these low ranked individuals. However, after completing the project and seeing the final, the catadores involved with the project were beyond amazed. They could not imagine such a thing could ever happen. Once the portrait of garbage was photographed for the auction, Muniz definitely got their hopes and confidence up. In one particular case, one of the individuals who was participating was able to fly to England to see his portrait be sold off in auction. This type of idea was nowhere in his imagination. This culture shock really did change these individuals. The individual who saw his piece being auctioned off before his eyes just by a simple numbered paddle was beyond shocked and happy. He began to cry out of happiness that his own face and the piece that he worked on was sold for so much – some imaginable number to him. Exposing such an individual who came from a low ranked community to a high end, classy auction was no joke for him or Muniz.
This type of scenario can cause problems within the community. This job of theirs – helping Muniz with the artwork – was only temporary. Although they were very proud of who they are, who they worked for, and that their face was exposed to the whole world through an auction, art gallery, and a personal interview, they were still stuck in the dumps. Those who were not participants of the project were hostile against the catadores involved. If I remember clearly, one scenario was that a catador involved was mugged his full $6000 from another individual who had him at gunpoint. This fame can go only so much.
The problem that was brought up in the documentary was the moral issue of whether it was appropriate for Muniz to expose them of such a thing. Muniz said that it was and that they can strive for fame like that. Others on his team believed differently. Some said that the catadores, although exposed to this type of fame, had no choice but to stay in the dumps and continue their life. Although they had their own picture hung up in their “house”, they can tell stories about their experience with Muniz, but may not ever get out of the state they live in.
This type of long-term implication can cause controversy. Can the catadores get out of the poor state they are in or will they be there their whole lives? Was this type of exposure beneficial? Sometimes the only problem these individuals have is money. They are completely competent, ambitious, and responsible, but to be born into this type of scenario is very difficult for them. There is no way out unless someone like Muniz takes them out and are willing to help them all.