The exhibition is a true photographic reportage that investigates the story of people and entire families who live and work in a garbage dump on the outskirts of a city in southern Angola. João Coelho was born in Angola, a country he was forced to leave abruptly because of the War of Independence, but which remained in his heart and for which he has always felt great nostalgia.
His passion for photography, for people, for their stories, and for appealing to his homeland brought him back to that African country where he began to build a story about what he calls the forgotten, but also the invisible, because the smoke and fumes and dust they live in doesn't even let you see them from the only road that passes about 2 km away.
João follows in the footsteps of the great Sebastião Salgado, wanting his work, above all, to inform, to denounce, and to document. The landscape reproduced in the shocking black and white images is desolate, almost comparable to a post-apocalyptic scenario. Trucks collecting garbage in the city dump it indiscriminately and randomly in piles that take up more and more available space. Beyond the garbage that accumulates as far as the eye can see, the horizon is dotted with flimsy shacks built from sticks and scraps of cloth: the dwellings of the scavengers. The dense dark fog caused by burning garbage extends to the mountains, which rise above the background like a barrier separating this place from the city, where those who produce the garbage live, indirectly giving a livelihood to those who live and work here: the forgotten ones.
Who could imagine that entire people and families are living and working in this quagmire of waste, dust and smoke where their only destiny is to survive in such harsh and precarious conditions?
Watching for the arrival of the trucks carrying the precious cargo, the family rushes to get to the unloading site first, thus earning the right to the day's leftovers. Most of the time they need to run after the trucks because you can never predict where they will stop. Otherwise, other groups in the vicinity quickly take over the piles of garbage. Therefore, one must fight and develop strategies to get this job done where only the strongest survive. Municipal waste is one of the most critical problems in Angola, where there is neither separate waste collection nor treatment in landfills. A study conducted in 2016 indicates a total of 3.5 million tons of waste produced annually in Angola, of which about a third (1.3 million tons) is generated in the capital alone. The same study the study points out that with the current population growth rate, we are heading towards a scenario of incredible challenges: the volume of waste production in Luanda will increase by 146% by 2025, while collection and treatment will not keep up with this growth rate. In every pile of garbage deposited outdoors you can find everything: plastic, cans, cardboard, clothes, glass, food scraps, industrial and animal waste, even animal carcasses. The smell is nauseating, the air is hot, saturated with toxic fumes from burning tires and burning plastic. Swarms of flies are a constant presence.
By the end of the day, the landscape is totally transformed. After exhausting each pile of trash, collecting pieces of cardboard, scraps of clothing, and leftover food, at sunset the men set fire to the trash, to better locate aluminum cans and pieces of metal, the most coveted trophies because they can be sold for recycling.
The bright flames stand out amidst the dense, almost palpable smoke that invades the plain, mixing with the gusts of dust raised by the wind. A post-apocalyptic scenario where the few survivors wandered around should be no different from this one. Hidden by this haze of toxic, boiling gases, dark silhouettes wander among the flames and ashes, impatiently searching for the day's spoils. Eyes used to darkness and trained to identify the tiniest pieces that have survived the flames, they pick through the chaos insensitive to the heat and the suffocating smoke.
The days here are always the same, but until when? Until when will they have to be resilient enough to survive? Until when these children can't be like other children? Until when will these people continue to be forgotten?