MARKET UP TOP
This series is part of a year-long ethnographic study of waste pickers at dumpsites in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Disparagingly called scavengers, waste pickers in developing countries are often depicted as symbols of poverty, human desperation and misery. Through these images, I encourage you to move beyond these common misconceptions and rather see waste pickers as urban eco-warriors creating value from dead goods that have been discarded and dumped.
Waste pickers can collect over 50kg of recyclables per person each day from the dumpsite and can earn double that of their peers doing contract work for garment factories or construction sites. They call the dumpsite “the market on top of the mountain” because of the opportunities it provides to exchange goods for money and acquire goods to use in their homes, such as clothes and cooking equipment. Their actions transform the dumpsite from a place of death, decay and a representation of urban overabundance to a space of entrepreneurship, creativity and possibility.
In my study, I explore competing systems of meaning, both local and global, which re-value things and people, and how within these systems waste pickers negotiate interactions with outsiders, often to their advantage. As a documentary photographer, I’m interested in exploring the use of still photographs and how these can express an anthropological understanding of the human condition.
Cindy spent 15 months photographing and learning about waste pickers in Phnom Penh as part of her PhD in Anthropology at the Australian National University. Currently based in Singapore, she is a visiting scholar at the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore. Cindy has completed a Master in Visual Arts at Charles Sturt University and has published a book of photo essays about the lives of teenagers in Australia titled Eighteen. She has exhibited in Australia, Cambodia and the United States. www.photoessays.com.au