End of Light: the Landfill Workers of Central America
In 2011 I began a photo project documenting the lives of landfill workers in Pitillal, a small indigenous town a few kilometers outside of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. On this first visit to Pitillal I arrived walking high above the dump, looking down on the thousands of vultures who were, in turn, looking down on the hordes of workers etched in a claustrophobic landscape of black and white.
For the next two weeks this place would become my life as I documented the workers there. Since the project’s inception in that tiny landfill of Pitillal, I have continued the series to the present day, traveling to Mexico and Guatemala City, and other destinations in Latin America.
As often is the case, two and sometimes three generations carve a meager living by retrieving recyclables from the endless convoys of sanitation trucks and horse drawn carts. There are no government safety codes or workers’ rights laws to protect their willingness for hard work and a chance to get ahead. I witnessed the conflicting tides of life’s forces, engaged dawn to dusk, watching workers’ taut leathered faces as they clinched twisted steel hooks and labored through the mounds of trash, wrapped in private suits of dignity and honor.
I talked to and courted the lost and the broken, the meek and forgotten, the young and the old, in this paradox of what has gone bad, this soul of decay. In this dark archeology of humanity, this insular world of need and disconnect, and in spite of the overwhelming social and economic injustices occurring at these landfills, I witnessed a profound balance of pride and dignity achieving a singular grace, which gives testimony to the vitality and perseverance of the human spirit.
David W. Lynch, Mexico City, 2014
Working Men of Cuba
Walking the streets of Havana I found an old world of laborers where higher technology is most often replaced by the work of hands that continue to forge the destiny of its people.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, which served as an economic umbilical cord, major transformation has forced change and upheaval to Cuba’s future. For a people used to challenging times, and a government compromised in its ethics, these changes have affected every aspect of their culture: socially, commercially, agriculturally, and subsequently, how they do business and function day to day.
With these drastic reforms has come a new birth of resiliency and resourcefulness, which is a testimony to the pride of a people in its community spirit. Laborers of all walks share a commonality of honor and strong moral fiber, which can give us insight into the depths of integrity and humanity shared by all mankind.
As Cuba waits on the brink of embracing the outside world, we can look to this country for its depth of old world skills and ingenuity.
David W Lynch, Havana, Cuba 2012
The Firesuit & The Bubblewrap Dress
This work taps deep into the American Landscape tradition, collective emotions and stereotypes projected onto the American West, and my own long history in photojournalistic social documentary. While the latter influence is not readily apparent, the works in these series (Firesuit Series, 2003–2008; Bubblewrap Dress Series, 2010–2011) owe much to the egalitarian values and felt sense of common humanity I honed while working amongst the rural agrarian laborers of Central America in the 1990s. This universality of human emotion becomes the fulcrum on which these companion series of staged images balance.
These interrelated works mine the landscape for powerful metaphors of human emotion, while their outlandish costume extends the figures’ identity to all viewers as common participants in the drama of lived feeling. Aloneness and the extreme internality of experience strike a balance with the truism that our fears and sorrows, our hopes and loves bind us together in common humanity.
In The Firesuit, location and setting become the complex forces of fear and love, despair and hope, evoking the continual tug of uncertainty, patience and stoic forbearance while surveying and inhaling a corrosive landscape. The figure is Self and ultimate Other combined, both enigmatic and intuitively felt. The self becomes miniscule and dwarfed by circumstance, or looms large on one’s own internal horizon. The landscape is the metaphoric balance of life taken to a higher ground, as dark as it is light, menacing as it is euphoric, toxic as it is cleansing. The title of each photograph locates but does not seek to demystify the internal state.
The Bubblewrap Dress depicts the figure unmasked, more personal yet more untouchable, swathed in the layers of constructed femininity demanded by contemporary culture. An exploration into the complexity of modern femininity, this body of work is currently evolving to tell a more narrative story, of the search for and evolution toward stability within a fragmented self. Within the romanticized figure of the woman-girl, one can read the elements of insecurity, fragility, vulnerability, and confidence that coexist under the skin/inside the dress. The dress becomes a trope through which to examine the boundaries, the ebbs and flows, the fluctuations of performed confidence and insecurity that have been the emotional weight of all women in a male-dominated culture.
The ten-year process of developing these series has spawned a deeper emotional understanding of what it is to be human, and the dialogue generated by exhibitions and previews thus far bears this out. The spontaneous and highly personal discourse among viewers, that arises in the gallery and in the studio around these works, confirms my dedication to furthering the exploration.
David W Lynch, Vashon Island, WA 2011
The Workers: Guatemala and Seattle
I first came to Guatemala in 1991, the waning years of a thirty-year conflict in which no citizen came away unaffected. Though I arrived as a stranger, my camera became my witness, and I was motivated to photograph and understand more clearly the relationships of community and some of the key elements in this largely agrarian society: Religion, Family, Work, and the Marketplace. These were the indigenous people’s best—and often only—defense against the government and guerilla forces infiltrating from all sides.
As this ancient culture struggles, like much of the world, with the complex forces of modernization and so-called global “development,” I witnessed the resiliency and strength of spirit of community structures and relationships in remote villages and populous cities alike. Through two decades of working in Guatemala, I have seen this spirit of communal participation withstand the overwhelming pressures of war, poverty, corrupt politics, and deep economic injustice.
While continuing my international work, I turned my eye closer to home, and began documenting industrial workers at the Port of Seattle in the late 1990’s. I found similar dynamics to those at work in the “developing world”: poverty, substance abuse, and disempowerment of the worker as a third class citizen in a society of privilege. Through my camera I am able to treat laborers visually as the human beings they are, and attempt to frame their dignity against the hard-edged backdrop of their daily circumstance.
David W Lynch, Seattle, WA 2010