Saturday, July 1, 2017

"Families of the Dump" History Repost

It seems that many times people I know ask me about my project "Families of the Dump" or I start to talk to them about it and want to have one link that I can send to them explaining the series. Today I decided to create one longer post, actually a re post of multiple old blogs.

I can now send this one long winded blog link to those that are interested,

To start if off here is an attempt at some poetry...written around

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Children Of The Dump
Flies buzzing in the sunshine
      Garbage and long toil
Giggles with quick laughter
     Playing with barking dogs
Broken glass and sweet hugs
    Found food but lost school
Stomach worms and stinking waste
    Rats running with the rice
Yet new hope and new life
    Children of the dump.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

"Children of the Dump" Artist Statement, Why I Made The Photos

Spent part of my night shift tonight trying to work on an artist statement for the upcoming "Children of the Dump" exhibition. I hate writing these things as the author usually ends up sounding like a pretentious , pompous ass. I will probably be revising this a lot before I use it in the show, heck I might not even use it but I thought I would share it none the less. I have always felt a simple non arty farty art speak statement was the best way to go. So here is a simple if rather long winded reasoning behind why I made these photographs. I tried to keep the artspeak talk to a minimum.
The "Families of the Dump" and this smaller "Children of the Dump" documentary photograph series was made at the Mae Sot Thailand garbage dump where around 400 people in 50 plus families live and work. The families are made up of Burmese refugees mostly from the Karen ethnic group, they illegally travelled from Burma into Thailand to scavenge and work in the Mae Sot dump digging for recyclable goods. All able bodied members of the family work, from the very young to the very old. There is a school nearby for the children but often they are required to work and cannot go to school.

Why make the photographs for the "Children of the Dump" series? It all came down to that first day I visited the dump, that first day, what I saw, the experiences I had locked me into this project. Here is a rather long winded story about that day and a bit of what happened before and after.

My first day at the dump was in May of 2013, I was unsure what to expect. Over the years and 11 previous trips I had become fairly comfortable in Thailand, I could speak some of the language I could even read and write a bit in Thai but this was something new, something different. I was worried and a bit apprehensive about how this all would play out. The dump was populated not by Thais but by Burmese, people who were refugees, illegals inside Thailand who were escaping political persecution and or economic hardships in their own country of Burma. My knowledge of the Thai language and experiences photographing Thais in the slums of Bangkok or the beer bars of Pattaya would be of little value.

To get to the dump I first had to fly from Canada, 3 airplanes and 24 hours later I was in my hotel in Bangkok. I then arranged a bus ticket for the overnight 10 hour trip from Bangkok to Mae Sot Thailand. Mae Sot is a town that is 70% Burmese even thou it is inside Thailand, it snuggles up along the Moei river which separates Thailand and Burma. Burmese workers can  easily cross the Moei river to work inside Thailand legally or illegally. There is a lot of human, drug and gem smuggling along this border area and a corresponding large police and military presence.

On arrival in Mae Sot I was spent, exhausted and still recovering from jet lag. I checked into my second hotel and went in search of food. I had no idea how to get to the dump or exactly what I would find but I figured I would ask a motorcycle taxi driver. The one thing you can always be sure of no matter where you visit is that taxi drivers know where stuff is. My Thai language skills came in handy as I was able to communicate my intentions and to arrange for a pickup early next morning. The deal was that the driver would pick me up at my hotel and take me out to dump at 8am for 60baht ($2.00 CAD).

The next morning after a rough night’s sleep I was up at 715am, had a quick shower, a jam sandwich and some water. After putting on a ton of sunblock and gathering up my photo gear I was ready to go. I met Khune Noi (the driver) out in front of my $20 a night hotel and off we went me on the back of the motorbike him driving. We drove through the dark streets passing the occasional orange robed Buddhist monk or groups of monks walking barefoot in search of their morning alms (collecting donated food). After about 30 minutes of winding, dusty, bumpy, pot holed roads, we approached the dump entrance. We wound around a green water lake, I could smell the garbage and see the small shacked family homes in the distance. It took another slow 5 minutes of driving and finally we arrived, Khune Noi stopped the bike I clamored off and readjusted my cameras. He then handed me the bag I had given him earlier. The bag contained some rice, canned fish and soap. My plan was that every day I came to the dump I would give out a gift bag to one of the families. I asked Khune Noi to return at 12 noon to take me home, he smiled and left.

So there I was standing on the road next to the green lake in the early morning light. The numerous bamboo-wood-plastic covered huts extended down the road on my left, there must have been 15 or more with the lake on my right. Some of the families peered out at me others went on with their morning chores showing little concern. I went up to the first house and gave the bag of rice to the lady sitting in the entrance. I did my best to say "rice"in Burmese as I  handed it to her, she smiled waied me (put her hands together as if in prayer) and said thank you in Burmese.

Now that I had gotten rid of the extra baggage I wanted to make some pictures. I started to wander slowly, the sun had risen and it was already becoming quite hot. I tried to be as polite and unobtrusive as I could, approaching the homes and quietly taking a few photographs. When people would look at me, I would hold up the camera asking if it was OK to photograph. Sometimes I just smiled and said "minga lah bah" hello in Burmese. When I was done I would say "zah zue din bah day" thank you. After 45-60 minutes of this wandering I came across a young boy holding a sickle like tool that was used for digging in the dump. I shot some photographs of him and then he turned and headed towards the nearby dump, he walked quickly down a small path. I made several photos of him as he walked in front of me, he got farther and farther ahead as I struggled through the mounting garbage. He soon was out of range of my camera.

Young boy walking into the dump my first day shooting, May 2013
I looked for another subject, off in the distance maybe 300 meters ahead I saw a figure with a white hat working. By this time it was quite hot, the sunlight was very bright and reflected off all the white bags on the ground, all that light being bounced back up into my face made it hard on the eyes. I decided to head to the worker with the hat and see what that would yield. I started off, often my feet sank deep into the garbage, I tried to avoid the more smelly messy areas, there were hills and hills of waste, far into the horizon. As I walked the flies came, I had never seen or experienced so many flies before. They were all over me, on my hands, arms, face, nose, eyes, ears, they moved on my fingers, on my camera and on my lens. I continued to walk, there was no wind, the flies buzzed my ears, crawled on my face, the smell of the rotting garbage grew stronger, the now incredible heat got worse. All I could think about was these blasted flies. I started to get very uncomfortable, sweat ran down my face into my eyes, the sunblock stung my eyes, the flies continued buzzing and crawling all over me. They climbed everywhere, first on the garbage, then on me, if I breathed through my mouth they would fly inside my mouth and I had to spit them out. This all seemed crazy! Why was I here? Why was I doing this? These bloody disgusting flies! I counted them, there were now 40 walking or sitting on the parts of my body that I could see. I started to freak out a bit, started to feel more and more disturbed by it all. There was nowhere to go, I was trapped, damn it was so hot! Finally I reached the figure with the white hat.

I looked at the worker, it was a man, no a woman, no not a woman it was a girl, a young girl, maybe 11 years old, I found out later her name was Doo-Aye. She looked at me with interest and curiosity as children do and smiled. I stopped and photographed her, her father was nearby but was involved in his own scavenging and paid me no mind. Doo-Aye had on the simple white hat I had seen earlier and had thanaka on her face. Thanaka is a white paste made from tree bark, the Burmese wear it as a sunscreen and also as a cosmetic for beauty. She worked and dug in the garbage alongside her father, they were filling up a big bag with anything worth salvaging, mostly plastics and cardboard. Then Doo-Aye found a ladies purse, something some Thai women in Mae Sot had thrown away. She looked through every part of it hoping to find anything of value, she searched all the corners, all the compartments pulling stuff out and letting it fall on the ground. I continued to photograph her and made a short video with my digital camera as she worked. Every now and then she looked up at me with curiosity and smiled. I asked myself "Why was this child working like this?"

Doo-Aye was the key to my wanting to do this series of photographs in the dump. She was the reason I wanted to tell the story of these forgotten families and these poverty stricken children. Once I saw her eyes, the friendliness of her smile and the quiet acceptance of the hard ugly work she was doing, I was hooked. She had a grace, a vulnerability, a joy for life to her that seemed so contradictory to the circumstances she lived in. This little girl should have been in school with opportunities for a greater future, instead she was here in this garbage, in this heat, with these bloody flies. Seeing her woke me up, here was this child, an 11 year old person living this way and trying to help her family. What the f-ck was I whining about? What were a few flies, a little bit of short time discomfort compared to Doo-Aye's past, present and future lives. I had to make pictures here, I had to tell others what I saw, I had to try to educate and inform through the photographs and my blog.

Doo-Aye surrounded by garbage, my first day in the dump May 2013
After that first day I was hooked, I went every day for the next week making pictures from 7am till 12 noon, I even got used to those blasted disgusting flies. I met other hard working families, who allowed me to photograph them and showed me their children with pride. Some of the women from the families got on me for not wearing a hat, they motioned up at the the sun, said the word "hot" in Burmese then pointed at their hat and my bare head. They shook their heads at me and frowned. This happened numerous times, it was sort of like having a Burmese mother or sister, someone watching over me. The more time I spend in the dump the more I became involved in the lives of the individuals. These people were living in absolute poverty but they had a beautiful dignity to them. I had shot photos for 8 days in a row, I made photographs until I ran out of film. Now I had to leave, it was time to return to Bangkok and then Canada, security work awaited (I work as a security guard).

In November of 2013 I returned to Mae Sot to make photos for another 6 days. My first morning back  there were shouts of "Minga Lah Bah!!!" directed  at me from 5 or 6 different people, it was a happy return, I felt part of a family. I wore a hat this time round and one of the men looked at me, pointed at my hat then gave me a thumbs up and a big smile. This second trip I made pictures and gave them as gifts, I started donating more and more food bags, some mornings carrying 3 heavy bags in along with all my photo gear. I eventually donated money to the local Burmese school, a school where the teachers worked as volunteers. The little bit I gave was not much for me but so important to the lives of the people living in the dump. Being part of those lives for a short time enriched me in so many different ways. It is hard to describe my feeling about the dump, in one sense it’s a terrible place but because of the people it is also sometimes beautiful.

As I left Mae Sot and the "Families of the Dump" for a second time I thought about our different lives, the differences fate had bestowed on us. I could run away from the dump, my Canadian passport and money meant I could leave and return to my privileged life in Canada. The families working the dump could not leave, they had nowhere to go and little hope of a brighter future. Now today as I write these words in my comfortable clean guard shack on my nice new computer Doo-Aye continues to live and work in the dump with the flies, cockroaches and rats. What will her future be? Will she find happiness? A loving husband? Children of her own?  Will her children be allowed a better life?

I am unable to return to the Mae Sot in 2014 but I will return in 2015. I will go back to continue photographing Doo-Aye her family and the other "Families of the Dump", their stories need to be told.

The attached link is to the "Eyes to Burma" charity, it is run by Mr. Fred Stockwell, he does good work helping the Burmese families living in the Mae Sot garbage dump. If you can please make a donation to his organization.

Thanks Gerry
Monday, December 30, 2013  

November Trip Scans 4

The rest of the photos in this blog are a continuation of the "Families of the Dump" series (might change that name yet!).
   Young boy working in the dump 2 "Families of the Dump" Series, Thailand 2013
Young boy walking in the dump 1"Families of the Dump" Series, Thailand 2013
Young boy working in the dump  3 "Families of the Dump" Series, Thailand 2013
Dump dogs 2 "Families of the Dump Series, Thailand 2013
Child and mother  "Families of the Dump Series, Thailand 2013
Boy with bicycle 1 "Families of the Dump Series, Thailand 2013 
Recycling food at the dump 1 "Families of the Dump Series, Thailand 2013
Working families in the dump "Families of the Dump Series, Thailand 2013

Saturday, February 15, 2014

November Trip Scans 15
"Families of the dump" Series, Thailand 2013
"Families of the dump" Series, Thailand 2013
"Families of the dump" Series, Thailand 2013
"Families of the dump" Series, Thailand 2013
"Families of the dump" Series, Thailand 2013
"Families of the dump" Series, Thailand 2013
"Families of the dump" Series, Thailand 2013
"Families of the dump" Series, Thailand 2013
"Families of the dump" Series, Thailand 2013
"Families of the dump" Series, Thailand 2013

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Am Speechless!!

A while back in October 2015 before I did my last trip to Thai and the "Families of the Dump" I sent a general email out to the people who work at my plant site in Edmonton, Canada. I work security nights at this plant and have been here close to 20 years. In that email I asked for some spare contactor hats. If the people had them could they please drop them off at security and I would take them to Thailand to Mae Sot and donate them to the families working the dump. I attached a few of my black and white documentary photos of the families in the dump from 2013. The email was a big hit and I ended up getting a ton of stuff.

- 5 pairs of used but good condtion steel toe rubber boots
- 120+ hats
- $480 in cash donations from 3 different people ( I had not asked for money they just gave it on their own!)

After I returned to Canada I sent another email out plant wide with photos and stories so everyone could see how the money was used. I wanted to show them the good they had done, I sent out pics of children in the dump wearing the plants hats, people holding bags with rubber boots etc. I also sent photos of the big donation at the local dump school and at the Mae La refugee camp. It was a win win thing for everyone involved, especially the families/children living in the dump.

So now lets fast forward to today. Last week just before I went on my week off I sent an email to one of the managers here on site. Earlier he had asked me to tell him when I was going back to Mae Sot again he wrote "I will get a few goodies together". I thought great he will put some t-shirts, some hats and the like in a bag for me and I can give those away when I return to the dump. Last week I sent him an email with the new details and the day I was leaving back to Thai.

Today I returned to work after my week off and checked my mail, this is what I found. This email was sent out to the entire plant.

G---- ------ is heading back to Mae Sot Thailand and the families in the dump on March -- th. He is planning on taking another 50 or so hats and some rubber boots etc.

I would like to do a little fund raiser on site. I am calling it "Hot Dogs for Hats". Maintenance will be cooking some hot dogs (with chilli etc.) for lunch on March 17th,  $5 for a hot dog or 3 for $10 with the proceeds going to buy hats, boots and maybe a few dollars for Gerald to by some goodies for the kids etc.

Please accept this invitation if you would like to buy a hot dog!

I was shocked. I am rather a private guy so having an email sent out plant wide using my name was a bit unnerving but gosh this is going to be wonderful, a fricking fundraiser! I have no idea how much money will be raised, I have no idea what to make of any of this, I know it is a good thing, maybe a great thing. Need time to digest this all, think it over. I will use the money in the best ways possible to help as many people as I can.

Who says that documentary photography cannot make a positive difference in peoples lives!! This all started with me wanting to make pictures in the dump after seeing a CNN story. Those intial photos I made in 2013, did have an impact, they did matter, they are making a difference. Step by step this has all lead to a small but positive change in the lives of many people, the"Families of the Dump". Not sure how much donation money will come out of this, but you got to love it!

"Ain't Photography Grand!!"

3 children in the dump, Mae Sot Thailand 2013
Self portrait with dump kids #1, Mae Sot Thailand 2015
Skyblue school donations, Mae Sot Thailand 2015

With the kids and their icecream at Skyblue school, Mae Sot Thailand 2015
Self portrait with dump kids #2, Mae Sot Thailand 2015

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Bunch Of "Families Of The Dump" Pics-Re Posted

Thought I would post these photos again for the fun of it. These are the images I quickly grabbed off google then placed  in a folder on my security work computer desktop. I searched through them for possible  "Ten Voices" gallery submission pics (an earlier blog). All these photos have previously been posted on this blog. They were made in late 2015, and early 2016, my last 2 times to Thailand.

In no particular order here they are!

Update* Just remembered I still have some, not a lot, but some 120mm film undeveloped from my last trip. Best get on it, develop, scan and post those on the blog as well.



Monday, May 22, 2017


Am sending this email out tomorrow (do not have internet mail access at work now) to 30 or so of my photo related friends in Canada. I hope my somewhat impassioned begging will help earn some donations and money for the dump families. I will have $500 of my own money, if I can some how find another $500 somewhere, along with donated goods like childrens clothes, hats etc. I will be sitting pretty heading back to the dump. $1000 plus goods would be a  nice gift for the "Families of the Dump", my friends in Mae Sot Thailand.

In the email I also sent information on the 2 upcoming exhibitions and the artist talk. Hope this email does not piss people off, but sometimes you have to take a chance if you see it as an important opportunity to help others.
Hi everyone.
I thought I would send one final email with all the exhibition info I have along with a plea to PLEASE help those less fortunate than ourselves. I usually do not ask people for money-donations but the things I have seen in Asia have changed the way I feel about email etiquette. Some things are just too important and you have to push hard to help those in need. After seeing first hand in person,  bare foot children run in garbage, people hungry, 10 year olds digging in garbage to raise money for their families, you do not worry about hurting the feelings of rich Canadian friends by asking them for help. I feel radicalized on this subject. So here is my donation plea, I hope it has a positive effect and we can together help the families and the children working the Mae Sot Thailand garbage dump.

Video of my first trips to the dump back in 2013.
Video of some people playing with my view camera
Another old video from 2013
Another old video from 2013 with some photos
Video from 2015 I think
Another old 2013 video with photos and music

I return to the “Families of the Dump” in October of 2017, will stay there for 6 months making photographs and making my first documentary film (on the life of one of the extended families). I am going to be buying food, rubber boots, headlamps (for night work) and also donating to a local school as well as helping the dump children buy school uniforms and pay school tuitions.  The money and or donations (used toys, hats, children’s clothing) I take with me to Thailand will be given directly to the families by me, or I will transfer them through a group working directly with the families that I have grown to trust. They do good honest work there, have seen them helping people in the dump for the last 4 years. A bit of background: I have been visiting, photographing, donating by myself and with this group since 2013. I have probably done over 50 day long dump visits over that time, multiple trips over multiple years. I now have many friends there, have photographed extensively over a long period of time. The growth of babies to children, children to young teens, a wedding, family outings, the life experience of those living in the garbage.
I am asking for a donation from you of money-small toys-children’s clothing and hats. With $10 I can buy and give 2 pairs of boots (cheap Chinese made) to people who work the garbage. I can buy  rice that I leave with the mother of the dump shack to feed her family, I can help a child go to school with tuition fees or school uniforms.  The price of 1 dinner out in Canada can help 2 or 3 large families in the garbage dump. Please, please consider donating some goods or some money to help those in need. We can all make the world a better place if we join in and contribute to the lives of the forgotten. You do not have to give lots, a child’s toy, old baby clothes, $5, $10, $20 everything makes a difference, everything can help. I will take 2 – 50lb check in bags loaded with photographic and film making tools but any room I have left over I will used for donated goods. The money I will use to buy things in Mae Sot Thailand where the families live. I can strike the best deals after negotiating prices at the local markets.  I can speak a fair amount of Thai to negotiate, and I also have several contacts there to help deliver food etc. to the dump which is outside of the main town.

Here are a ton of links to donation stories I have written on my photo blog over the years. PLEASE TAKE THE TIME TO READ SOME OF THEM. Giving can do so much good for the soul, over the years what I have done for the families has helped me 10 fold inside my own heart.
As for me, I plan on donating upwards of $500. I am getting a $400 artist fee for the “Trumpet” show listed below, and possibly a $100 shipping credit (am begging for that money now). I am also going to get money for an artist talk for the “Healing Process” exhibition, that money is being donated to the dump children as well as a gift from my father. I figure it should all add up to $500+  in help for the families. This is a great thing because it shows how photography, especially social documentary photography can do some real good. In the past several people (including some on this emails mailing list) have told me that photography does not matter, cannot help etc. I felt at the time that was wrong, and it was, the money from the showing of the photos is going to go back to the families in the photos, beautiful baby, so beautiful!!! Let’s show those naysayers that we as photographers and artists can make a positive difference in the lives of others. Let’s help the “Families of the Dump” together.
Ok end of donation plea. I did my best..