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Asia

Celebrating Indian waste collectors

Litter, waste and refuse are not the usual subjects of photographic art. But a young German photographer has focused exactly on that: waste and waste collectors in India. The photos are displayed at the Berlin gallery.

An Indian waste collector sorting plastic bottles

An Indian waste collector sorting plastic bottles

These days, visitors to the gallery of Berlin's adult education center are confronted with photos of people working on a landfill near Delhi. It might seem strange, but the photographs in the exhibition, entitled "Tracing Waste", look bright and upbeat.

"The idea is to make people aware of certain issues which are perhaps not so comfortable at times," explains photographer Enrico Fabian, "I thought I'd display these issues in the most attractive way so to give people a chance to connect - which is more difficult if you have a dark, very sad kind of work."

Keeping the environment clean

Children playing on a waste dump

Children playing on a waste dump

Enrico Fabian lived most of his life near Dresden. Four years ago he decided to move to India and establish himself as a freelance photographer. Soon after arriving in New Delhi, he discovered the city's gigantic landfills. He saw hundreds of waste collectors and people recycling scrap metal and other materials.

Fabian got immediately interested in these people and made them the theme of his photographs. He believes that people, who do this kind of work, affect the lives of others in a very positive way. "They help us keep our environment clean. And of course these people are also the ones who take the burden of this very hard kind of work," says Fabian.

"Untouchables"

Most of these waste collectors are Dalits, formerly known as "untouchables", who are at the lowest level of the caste system and simply cannot get any other regular job. When Fabian asked the waste collectors if he could accompany them to get to know about their daily routine and aspirations, they were puzzled by the unusual request.

"But the confusion, after a while, changed into amusement. For them it was a very untypical sight to see a foreigner standing atop the mountain of garbage," tells Fabian, "And I never used any kind of protection, so I was really trying to work with them, alongside the way they'd usually work. So I think this made us feel connected."

From pity to fascination

Photographer Enrico Fabian stands next to one of his pictures at the Berlin gallery

Photographer Enrico Fabian stands next to one of his pictures at the Berlin gallery

When Enrico Fabian explains his work to visitors at the Berlin gallery, he realizes that many German viewers simply feel pity for the people in the pictures at first. But after a while, they are often fascinated by the sheer scale and effectiveness of waste collecting in India.

"When you take a closer look into the system, you see how these informal groups, which have organized themselves, finally contribute to a result which even overcomes the recycling capacities in Germany," says Fabian, "Because this labor is so cheap, and this kind of labor would not be possible in our part of the world."

Enrico Fabian emphasizes that he does not want to criticize Indian society or suggest changes - he simply wants to celebrate the people who, by doing their job, make a huge contribution to the entire society.

Author: Thomas Voelkner

Editor: Thomas Baerthlein

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