In 2010, a magnitude seven earthquake hit the tiny Caribbean nation of Haiti, killing hundreds of thousands of people. Support flooded in from around the world, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie donated $1 million, and Sean Penn set up a relief organization. But then the eyes of the world turned away from Haiti, to other horrors, other disasters.
Veteran photographer Giles Clarke has been visiting Haiti since 2011, running photography workshops for film students at the Cine Institute—Haiti's only free-tuition film school. His latest series Waste in Time documents the lives of 2,000 Haitians he discovered working on a massive government-owned dump, just outside of Port-au-Prince.
VICE: Tell me about this dump you discovered during your time in Haiti.
Giles Clarke: It's this former reservoir that had been filled in by this rubble from the earthquake. It was the only water drinking source for this very poor, very rough community called Cité Soleil, which was known as the Western Hemisphere's most dangerous and dense slum—it still is.
How did you find out about it?
I sort of started to get to know the area a bit, and then through my investigations, I heard about this dump. In fact, you can see the dump from the distance when you're in Cité Soleil. It's a huge smoldering shit pile. There are two hundred acres of smoking debris.
So I arranged for a local fixer to take me there, and as soon as I drove up, I knew it was something from a different planet. There were people wandering around with these rags on them and their faces covered. I mean, it's just a completely isolated wasteland with all these people who are just foraging and scavenging for various recyclable stuff like aluminum, metal bottles.
You've shot all around the world, and, obviously, scavenging is central to the economy in many poor communities. What made you want to shoot this dump in particular?
The difference about this one was the fact that the dump used to be a water source. This is where it's sort of symbolic of the Haitian corruption… I think it is one hundred sixty-third worst country in the world in terms of corruption. The worst thing about it is obviously the the trucks that come there are all government paid, and yet there's no regulation of what they dump. There are no medical providers. You see it in the pictures. People are just working in the most horrific of conditions.
How did the Haitians there respond to you photographing their lives?
It's not somewhere I was welcome to start with. It's hostile. But I went back a few times, and eventually I became somewhat accepted, and I began shooting. Many of these people are under eighteen, with some on the run from authorities. There's simmering gang violence. There's a lot of drug taking. It's a version of hell on Earth, but it's also a source of income and home to well over one thousand five hundred people.
How do you balance wanting to bring attention to this horrible situation that people are living in without it being exploitative?
The way I see it is that stories have to be told… I was interested in the fact that these people are a symbol for the corruption in Haiti just because, first of all, their fresh water source was taken, and no other water was provided. There's no medical assistance, there's no regulation of the waste, and there's no alternative employment. So I saw the dump as sort of a symbol for what is, in many ways, a rotting society in which only the top percentage really benefit.
Visit Giles Clarke's website.