A trash dump called Smokey Mountain in Manila’s Tondo district in the Philippines is known as the largest slum in East Asia.
Even though the Philippines was one of the first countries in Asia to develop a nationalist movement, the country was occupied at different times by Spain, the United States and Japan. During these occupations, foreign religions and politics were forced upon Filipinos. They were also deprived of their own language and culture. But they never lost pride in their ethnic heritage and have always strived to maintain their identity.
The Philippines is the only Catholic nation in Asia.
Andres Bonifacio, a revolutionary known as the savior of the Philippines, came from a poor family in Tondo where the Smokey Mountain lies. To this day, he is revered by Filipinos as a national hero.
These photographs were taken between 2002 and 2010 in and around the Tondo and Smokey Mountain area.
People who live in the area survive by scavenging copper wire, bits of iron, wood, plastic bottles and aluminum cans from the mountains of trash. A day’s worth of pickings can bring 100 to 150 peso (about 3 US dollars). Very infrequently, a lucky scavenger will find gold or a watch. But they also find guns and even human body parts like arms amidst the trash.
I met Nonoi and his family at Smokey Mountain around Christmas in 2006 while they were having a funeral for one of their children. Generations of Nonoi’s family have been scavengers and he and his children are also scavengers. While I was staying at Nonoi's place over Christmas, he lost one of his children and his wife was pregnant with another child. A week later, his wife gave birth. On the very same day, an unknown baby was found dead in the trash in Smokey Mountain.
Smokey Mountain is like the graveyard of capitalism. There, the cycle of life and death is very fast. It is a place that once gave birth to a revolutionary, a wasteland, and to some, represents the end of the world. Through photographs of the place and Nonoi’s family, I capture new dawns and new worlds being born.