April 5, 2012 - April 29, 2012
Smokey Mountain, Cambodia
Smokey Mountain rubbish dump, at Steung Mean Chey, started as a landfill site sixty years ago, and is now part of Phnom Penh, Cambodia; the grey cloud of acrid smoke exuding from constantly burning garbage gives it its nickname. There are more than 2,000 casual workers, including some 600 children, who scavenge across the dumpsite, collecting plastic bags, metal, plastics, and paper which are then sorted, cleaned, weighed, and sold for recycling. People work, eat, and sleep amidst the rubbish and constant fumes, their strenuous labor earns them about $1 per day. Waste pickers even work night-shifts using miner’s lamps to illuminate their way. It is a place notorious for pollution, crime, and disease; medical waste is a constant hazard.
Nigel Dickinson documented the gripping human condition found atop the dumpsite in this powerful series. The artist summarized the challenging economic dilemma at the heart of Smokey Mountain this way: “in Asia, whole communities have developed out of the waste industry, handling some 75% of urban waste. What is a life of misery for some, is an example of sustainable development to others. Across Asia, the figures for recycling man-made resources, by such communities, are staggeringly high compared with the western developed countries. Informal waste collection systems have environmental and economic advantages, reducing the need for landfill, saving natural resources, while providing an important lifeline for some of the world’s poorest people, but waste scavengers have dramatically shortened life expectancies, poor health and bad living conditions.”
Nigel Dickinson is a British-born documentary photographer, photojournalist, and filmmaker whose work focuses on the environment, marginalized communities, sustainable development, identity, and culture. He graduated from Sheffield University in 1982 with a BA in Communication Arts. In the early 1990s, he began a long-term project documenting Roma communities across Europe and the Americas. In 2003, a ten-year project on the Roma pilgrimage to Saintes Maries, Sara Le pelerinage des gitans, was published by Actes Sud. Dickinson’s Roma work was featured in National Geographic and exhibited at Visa Pour L’image, Arles Rencontres, the “Moving Walls 12” documentary series in New York, and the Venice Biennale 2011. Editorial and NGO assignments during the last three decades took Dickinson to the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe, covering diasporas and refugees from environmental disasters and war. In addition to “Smokey Mountain, Cambodia,” his other projects include Sharia Islamic law in northern Nigeria, the meat industry, indigenous land rights, and deforestation issues. Dickinson lives and works in Paris and London.