“Waste Land” is a documentary on the work of Vik Muniz, a photographer and artist from Brazil, now living in Brooklyn, NY. One of the jewels that pop up once in a while through Netflix, Waste Land captivated me from the start. Vik Muniz was raised in Brazil, in what he called lower middle class society, and had gone against all the odds and made it as a photographer. Even his father didn’t believe in his dream.
In Rio, at a huge landfill at the end of the road by the ocean, at all hours of the day and night pickers make their living retrieving recyclables from the mountains of stinking garbage. Vik focused on 5-6 key people working there. One, Tiao, is the man who had the dream of starting the association that protected the pickers and organized the recycling center. This man also worked against the tide of belief, people scoffing at him for his ideas.
At one point in the film Vik and his wife and Fabio, the collaborator in Rio with Vik on this project, debated whether the exposure to the fame from the project would harm or help the subjects–once they had been exposed to a better life this project offered and if they had to return to their life as a picker.
As the story unfolded, and the subjects worked on the final panels that would be sold at auction, they began to discover themselves, to see themselves as beautiful and worthy. Vik’s loving attention to the details of the shoot and his deep respect for the subjects brought them out of their shells and allowed for the sharing of themselves, and as one woman put it, “People see the beauty in us now.”
By the end of the film you realize that although most of the subjects had to return to life in Rio and the grinding poverty, that they had indeed benefited from the work and had grown from it and prospered in ways that cannot be measured with money. Each subject had a different kind of change happen in their lives but all grew and prospered in their own way.
Working with the Whirling Dervishes for 5-6 years I also witnessed that same kind of revelation–how in the beginning each felt so uncomfortable at the exposure and by the end of the work could see the beauty that was there for others to see. This beauty that comes out with love and encouragement glows and creates an aura that makes it very difficult for the subject of the photo to deny.
One after the other would say that it must be because I was such a good photographer. However, what happens is the love and respect shown to them, by my acceptance of their beliefs, allows for the relaxing to happen that is needed to catch those lovely moments of devotion.
The beauty of humanity is there; we just have to be willing to let go and be exposed–to allow for the viewing of our true beauty, the beauty that lies within. That is the beauty that truly counts. Outwardly appearances fade, inner beauty takes its place. Check out the link below to see Vik’s work.