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Brian Shumway

La Chureca

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La Chureca (‘the scavenger’) is located in Managua, Nicaragua and is home to one of the largest inhabited dump communities in the world. With a population of 1700 housed within its walls, over fifty percent of them are children under 18.  It is a permanent, living community where babies are born, children are raised and educated, and people work as recyclers, exposed to illness and environmental dangers.

On the surface, the people of La Chureca appear imprisoned within a trash dump, suffering extreme poverty, addiction, and health problems. However, in getting to know the youth, I witnessed something else: a richer, deeper life beyond the trash that is often ignored by visitors, such as myself, for the more shocking aspects of their lives. They have a childhood, develop meaningful relationships, and experience boredom and loneliness, like anyone else. These children, enduring brutal, dehumanizing living conditions, are still playful, curios, and passionate. Such simplicities can be forgotten when seeing people who literally live amid trash. It’s unimaginable, yet also a reality taken for granted by those who live there.

This series is intended to offer a fresh perspective and thus does not share the assumption that the people of La Chureca, and those in similar situations, endure a ceaselessly miserable existence. Devoid of the now familiar images of hordes of people picking through trash, shack homes on the verge of collapse, or naked children dangerously perched on mounds of filth, I tease out the mundane, everyday moments that draw us together as people and offer a deeper understanding of our common humanity.


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Brian Shumway


90 thoughts on “brian shumway – la chureca”

  1. Amazing command with the media, a poetic implementation of the information, a noble decision on how to deliver this story and certainly something i would have no issue paying to see on the walls of a gallery.

    Congratulations Brian, you should be very proud of this and I hope this work opens the doors for you to do more meaningful work like this.


    i agree….and, there are more…after we locked this down, Brian sent me an e-mail which included an attachment that i totally missed..with pictures he should have included in the first place…i suppose he “second guessed” himself…a pretty normal occurrence ..i only caught it as i was writing to tell Brian his story was up and then i could not get it unpublished so we could fix it (my lack of tech expertise)…anyway, we will add the others tonight or as soon as possible….this is a subject which we have seen so many times before , but this essay by Brian is special in every way…it never matters what has been done before…a fresh eye will always get us….

    cheers, david

  3. The photos are great and a style of photography that I like; but, they appear not as an essay but a random selection of photographs. They don’t, for me, tell a story. About half of these hanging on a wall in printed in large sizes would be something I’d like to see, though.

  4. JIM…

    how can these photographs be random?? they are all from the same place at the same time??? certainly there was the old tried and true a,b,c,d,e,f, g, “how to- picture story” that went away about 30 years ago at least, and only occurred even then at newspapers in the U.S….please , for all of us, give us an example of a set of photographs taken today that would in your mind be a “picture story”…for me, this is quite clearly an essay and gives us a powerful message…but, i am more than willing to find out exactly what you are thinking…you know what i think, so i would like to know what you think…by example please….

    cheers, david

  5. Very special Brian, congratulations: looking forward to seeing more later.

    Your approach is just right, you show that even in the most appalling situations, the human spirit endures; not that it should have to endure such poverty. Our shared humanity shines through.

    Viewing on my MacBook, I didn’t realize that the compositions were square as I couldn’t see all of the photograph; I will view again on my IMac. medium-format photojournalism! Not seen that for a while – makes me want to try film again! From what I can see from the thumbnails, you have great composition skills.

    Very special, thanks for sharing.

    Best wishes,


  6. Just looked at your website Brian; you command the square! Not easy to do.

    So many strong photographs on your website Brian; number 21 from Camp Wesley is an immediate favorite.


  7. I think Brian has an interesting point, however I can’t see it (maybe it’s the pictures missing?)
    I like your approach. I just want to see some more happiness (?) and maybe in colour. or maybe it’s my damn mood


    i think it is your mood or maybe this is just not your cup of tea…however, the new pictures will not change how you feel about this…they will just add to the strength of how much Brian has done…

  9. I like the approach. And his findings after spending some time there.

    it’s definitely my damn mood. I’d still prefer it in colour though. not meaning to put down the photographers work.

  10. O.k. Brian; I’ve seen your essay on the big screen. Impressive; your use of medium format is masterful.

    The opening photograph is beautiful / appalling: the larger the image the more flies one can see. People; anything, should not have to live like this. Photographs, especially (for me) black & white photographs, have the power to transcend being windows to what they portray and become objects in themselves. So it is possible to think “what a wonderful photograph” when what it depicts is less than wholesome.


  11. This is a wonderful collection of photographs. I enjoyed seeing them very much.

    My only remark doesn’t have to do with the photos, per say. Just that even with my monitor set at 1280×800 I still couldn’t fit the entire photograph on my screen. I watched it once trying to scroll up and down to see the whole thing, then I noticed the “full screen” mode button and I had to watch it again.

    But again very powerful set of photos.

  12. THIS is the STORY this essay gives me:

    the resiliency of the human spirit in the face of adversity… we should learn from the children…

    thank you very much Brian. thank you very very much.

  13. Brian,

    All I can say is that this is a wonderful essay…I agree with Marcin, one of the very best essays so far…. Moving, poetic, so many great shots…


  14. Pingback: brian shumway - la chureca | burn magazine | The Click

  15. I agree with the first comment left by Joe… Fantastic work….love, love, love the square (my first love is my Hasselblad). A fresh and sensitive take on the strength of the human spirit to persist, even when having to “make do” in conditions such as this. Great job, Brian.

  16. A really good set of pictures. Very strong. Very ‘tight’. I enjoyed going through them several times.
    A strong story no doubt.
    If I have one small concern it is that the images and therefore the ‘visual’ part of the essay do not seem to ‘lock’ in with the written preamble as tightly as I thought they might. This in no way lessens my enjoyment of what is very very sound photography that is well put together, but after reading the intro I had a preconceived idea of the story and it didnt match the story I saw. [ its why I personally dont like words much, i guess, they can set up an expectation, or a pre-judgement]
    Again, Really good work, would love to see big bromides of it on a wall.
    Nice to see this done on 6×6 as well.



  17. Hi David/ Burn,

    I miss the search option on the site, so you can search on keywords. Now it can be difficult to find certain comments/ subjects, reading back things etc. I would like an option of question/ answer or a general platform apart from the pictures/ essays, f.e by adding your own subject on which people can respond. In that way questions/ comments apart from those on the pictures/ essays have their space. I like burn very much, lots of insight, interesting comments/ questions, think- abouts, thank you for this inspiring platform!

    Bye, David

  18. First, let me say I regret that in #8, the pool wall eats up a bit on the child’s right eye. Maybe I can be shown it is not detrimental to the greatness of the shot… Bravo, anyway!

    OK, pretty much in my court, this type of photography. Can’t not like it. Yet, a few points: in general first. I am not sure that B&W should be the medium for that genre (children in adverse conditions TODAY!). It sure is a perennial subject, but your text tells us to look at it a new, not as we, assumingly, did before. Then, some pictures do stand very well in that medium, so just a GENERAL thought on 21ST CENTURY docu photography.

    My critique on your essay is that I do not sense you established, yet, the kind of contact that could really make what you write about “life, not just misery” shine from your pictures. All the kids seem taken as you came across them, almost as a tourist could come across them. You look at them, they look back, so to speak. There is contact of course, and some pictures do not need much of it to be superb (woman breasting her child in shaded corner), but since we are talking essay, this was my first reflection.

    Stelios does have a point, IMO. It is easy to bring Life!, out of children when we do not show their mental or physical sufferings. Exactly why children photography is at once so ubiquitous and yet, one of the hardest subjects to bring about. We could hope for more laughter, playing, mischievousness, interaction between them and the world about, etc… This said, the poetic and tender, even restrained look you shot them with, in these pictures, does convey true compassion. It’ s only reading your intro that these thoughts came to me as I watch the essay.

    I do learn a lot from looking at that kind of work. Thansk to David and thanks to you for bringing it out.

  19. David, I was speaking of random in order of selection. They just don’t make a coherent essay to me. Great photos. Just not a story.

  20. “These children, enduring brutal, dehumanizing living conditions, are still playful, curios, and passionate.”

    I did not get this from these photos. The children, regardless of what they are pictured doing, look haunted with a deep sadness to me.


    good idea…let me find out if we can do it..


    where in the world have you been?? i need to speak with you soonest about your essay…i want to publish it pronto…

    cheers, david

  22. HERVE…

    hmmm, i like the almost missing eye…adds just the right amount of tension…and one of my favorites of the set…

    by the way, i also like your wedding picture…will try to publish at “just the right time”…to add just the right amount of tension….

    cheers, david

  23. This is a great essay. I just got back from visiting a dump in Maputo, Mozambique so I was particularly interested in this essay. I was unfortunate to not be able to photograph in the dump as the group I was visiting had a policy against cameras – trying to be sensitive that it is people’s homes, not just a heap of trash. And while I think I would have been able to respect that privacy, I can see that if they are bringing lots of guests there every week, it would be best for them to not be taking pictures. To me there’s no occasion of telling someone’s story that doesn’t require that respect.

  24. I appreciate your feedback on Brian’s great shot in the pool, David, and my submission (I hate that world, who wants to submit?) as well, needless say.

  25. DAVID,

    I have been for 3 weeks in Europe, just back in Cinci for 10 days…The family will be in the US until July and I am commuting between Belgium and here every 2-3 weeks. Unfortunately, my office computer that I use when I travel does not allow me to post comments (not sure what is the reason) so while I follow very closely what is going on, it is proving difficult for me to comment…. Anyway, I would of course love to connect with you on the essay…Let me know if you want me to give you a call or connect through mail on the edit….

    Looking forward to next steps.



  26. Wow, wow, wow. Very powerful coherent essay that honors these people. Stunning, masterful work and the approach is refreshing. Words fail. Greatly enjoyed your website as well Brian, it’s on my very shortlist of best bookmarks. Really, I can’t say enough.

    So, Brian where are you going with this work? Does it fit into a larger picture for you? Was this assignment based for an NGO?

  27. I think this is a great series, and I love the pictures and the square format. I have to wonder, though, why Brian chose to focus on children to “tease out the mundane, everyday moments that draw us together as people”? I ask because I worry that it’s too easy to see our common humanity in children, that we’re inclined to see children as innocent and therefore undeserving of poverty, whereas adults can be seen to have brought their poverty on themselves. This post (http://www.knitnut.net/?p=816) articulates that worry much better than I can.

  28. I like the work, but my take on this essay is that it’s pretty heavy, empty, lonely, quiet and has a some kind of passive feel to it in most pictures, unlike other things mentioned in the introduction. The emotions are very subtle if you ask me. I miss different energies, I think it’s more monotone than real life which I, f.e, read about in the introduction. So the message of the essay presented by these pictures is somewhat confusing to me.

    Bye, David

  29. hi everyone, just wanna say thanks for the thoughtful replies. not sure how much i should weigh in, since i am the photographer. so i’ll let it speak for itself and continue to ingest what you all have to say.


  30. The opening shot is quite something. It looks to me like the baby is snugly wrapped in kelp like some kind of water baby. A Beautiful photograph.

    The essay is a tour de force.

  31. Brian,

    I think you fully reached your target of showing “the mundane, everyday moments” in this essay. Most of the images are strong, absolutely self-standing shots, and your b&w is superb (just a curiosity: are these scans from negatives or from prints?). Just a couple of pictures look weaker to me and could be removed without detriment for the whole thing, but that’s a minor thougth.
    I think that the introduction should mention where in the world “la chureca” is located: it is obviously south america, but I had to go to your website to find out that is Nicaragua we are talking about.

  32. The only thing I didn’t like about this essay was that every picture didn’t have a caption. I had no idea that that places like this exist. You really did a great job of immersing the audience in this place and the way of life. I didn’t think about the rest of the world or how this fit into it, but just about this place. Every individual photo was very powerful, and had its own different emotional aura. All I can say is thank you for making this. I am happy that I know about it now.

  33. Brian — well seen, consistent, powerful, complex, direct, heartfelt, skillful… i like that the 16×16 prints on your website are $296, not $295 or $300 :-)

    i’ll be looking for your name, obviously your name is or will be in many editor’s rolodex’s.


  34. Sublime, a fairy-tell fired by the ache of the heart, and devastating….the horse of this flesh that leads the child of this mother’s breast milk away….

    sublime and devastating…

    and, i dreamed of the work (yes, true), 6 months ago…how we are all connected….

    heartbreak and august….

    thank you for sharing…


    En el calendario:
    la ausencia.
    Ventanas blancas
    por donde escapa
    tu imagen.
    La soledad me alivia.
    Me distiende la piel.
    Recobro el sonido de
    la vida interior
    ensordecida por tus palabras.
    Ventanas blancas de los días
    me vacían de rencor.
    Caen afuera las primeras lluvias.
    Mi soledad huele a tierra mojada.
    Mi vientre se llena de viento.
    En unos días más olvidaré
    el contorno preciso de tu rostro.
    Entonces empezaré a desearte
    otra vez.
    Descartaré el olvido, la rabia.
    La nostalgia me mojará
    y yo también oleré a humedad.
    Desde las ventanas blancas del calendario
    me mirarán tus ojos de antes,
    los del amor.
    Esperaré deshojada
    la resurrección de la carne
    de lo que fuimos.
    Removerá mi alma las alacenas
    del optimismo.
    Pondré alpiste en las ventanas
    y aguardaré el pico duro de tu boca
    tu mirada de pájaro.
    -Gioconda Belli

  35. Sublime, a fairy-tell fired by the ache of the heart, and devastating….the horse of this flesh that leads the child of this mother’s breast milk away….

    sublime and devastating…

    and, i dreamed of the work (yes, true), 6 months ago…how we are all connected….

    heartbreak and august….

    thank you for sharing…


    En el calendario:
    la ausencia.
    Ventanas blancas
    por donde escapa
    tu imagen.
    La soledad me alivia.
    Me distiende la piel.
    Recobro el sonido de
    la vida interior
    ensordecida por tus palabras.
    Ventanas blancas de los días
    me vacían de rencor.
    Caen afuera las primeras lluvias.
    Mi soledad huele a tierra mojada.
    Mi vientre se llena de viento.
    En unos días más olvidaré
    el contorno preciso de tu rostro.
    Entonces empezaré a desearte
    otra vez.
    Descartaré el olvido, la rabia.
    La nostalgia me mojará
    y yo también oleré a humedad.
    Desde las ventanas blancas del calendario
    me mirarán tus ojos de antes,
    los del amor.
    Esperaré deshojada
    la resurrección de la carne
    de lo que fuimos.
    Removerá mi alma las alacenas
    del optimismo.
    Pondré alpiste en las ventanas
    y aguardaré el pico duro de tu boca
    tu mirada de pájaro.
    -Gioconda Belli

  36. Abele Quaregna

    FYI, Nicaragua is in Central America not South America, a muy huge difference.


  37. Sappho/Kat,

    you are absolutely right of course: muy shame on my side… also because I hate the fact that, in my country, the word “America” is almost always used as a synonym of “USA”… and at the end, a not so precise language leads to an unclear thought and dangerous generalization. Gracias!

  38. One point I’d like to make for those laying out the magazine, I’m looking at this work on a MacBook and I need to scroll just a little to see the images in their entirety. Is this magazine aimed at viewers with studio displays? I’m sure there are many among us without these big screens.

  39. anna maria barry-jester

    Hi Brian,
    Let me start by saying I worked in the clinic at La Chureca for several years, so I am completely biased on the subject matter…I think you have made some incredible photographs, and your written words are a great approach to the story. I will say that, what I miss most is the interactions between family members. Be it brothers and sisters, or parents and children, etc. I think you absolutely have the school relationships, and I’m not sure that you NEED the relationships between family in there; it’s just as a very biased viewer, and given your written piece, that is what I miss most. Beautiful beautiful images, however. Cheers.

  40. i really like this work and i appreciate that you are coming from a more
    uplifting “angle” than most probably would in an essay about this place.

    after reading your words here:

    “This series is intended to offer a fresh perspective on the lives of those whom we unthinkingly assume endure a ceaselessly miserable existence. There are no images of hordes of people picking through trash, shack homes on the verge of collapse, or naked children dangerously perched on mounds of filth. Rather, I tease out the mundane, everyday moments that draw us together as people and offer a deeper understanding of our common humanity.”

    i’m left with one question:

    why try to limit your (our) perspective?
    why not try to show the whole reality?

    we do that a lot, don’t we? we choose an angle.
    but often we don’t have to.
    i like to see the darkness and the light, together.
    the whole picture.

    where are the photos of smiles and laughter?
    wherever kids are they are playing, smiling and laughing.


    definitely one of my favorite essays so far.


  41. why not try to show the whole reality? we choose an angle.
    but often we don’t have to.

    Thes subjects always show an angle, or are always seen from an angle, IMO. I am not sure we should tell him what to do, even as we miss some aspects, given his text (essay might be unfinished, and there is probably something to be said about texts introducing essays on BURN, as some become problematic, or have a problematic that distracts from the pictures).

    Anyway, I think the voice/eye/intent/angle of the photographer must be strong and standing up high in such essays, because people and viewers have either a strong idea of what (and how it) should be seen, from poor corners of the world, or simply gobble it as another us here and them there. usually, a page turner.

    Ok, what I am saying is that angles are not categories to be chosen(shot a smile, shoot the whole village from the hill, shoot the crying child in hospital ward, mix all up and serve….) beforehand. That is done every day by thousands of photographers, often dozens in the same spot.

    Off for the week again. Feel like a migrant worker…..What a man must do, to feed his inner child! ;-)

  42. just came back for my umpteenth look at this. That opening shot is just something else, and it is fully backed up by more. Fuck the words i just think the pictures in this essay are superb.

  43. A very nice set of images.

    However I do not think it is as tight an edit as it could be. 4, 8, 9, 12, 14, 15 qnd 18 all have the same feel to me. ALL are excellent images, I just feel that they are too much like each other. I think Brian should pick no more than 3 of these and the story would be much tighter. Again, there is nothing I dislike about any of them, all wonderful images. Numebers 4, 8, 15, and 18 are my favorites and if I were to have to pick only three out of the four, I would be up nights trying to work it out. I would love to have any of these images to hang on my wall.

    Well done Brian.

  44. Jeroen Berkenbosch

    Very, very good. It’s a tragic situation, photographed with a lot of vision, strong compositions and a good story line.

    An example for many other (aspiring) photographers, including myself.

  45. strong images…
    the B/W is so luscious…
    even on my monitor..
    would LOVE to see prints…
    each frame is loaded with complexities…
    LOVE the photo of the nursing Mom…
    This story is filled with
    and beautiful imagery
    in a oh, so difficult living situation…
    Thanks for sharing
    your vision…..

  46. when traveling, and I think this is the same in any place, the longer one stays in one place (starting from several months), the more you forget about the obvious (the trash, the harsh conditions, etc) and see only the “normal life”. In my opinion this essay succeeds to suggest this feeling of long stay, which gives some sort of connection with the subject, just not the obvious one.

    I saw the pictures before reading the introduction. And I don’t know much about this country. But i felt, that a second story was told behind the pictures. (1,3,7,9,11,12,24)
    Like very obviously for example No.1 showing child pregnancy without a pregnant child on the picture

    edit could be tighter, but I did enjoy seeing more. That’s the big advantage of Burn over printed magazines, the photographer (and so the reader as well) can afford some more pictures…

    I enjoyed really much seeing this essay. Thanks! Congratulations!
    Made me wish a printed version of Burn in my bookshelf

  47. Brian,

    I have many opinions about your work at different levels. My first impression is that it is mature, responsible and technically strong. Presented as a whole, the series is, for the most part, coherent. In short, I am favorably inclined to it and so the following feedback is based on what I believe could make it stronger on a technical and ephemeral level.

    Technical & Composition:
    – I realize square format favor presenting subjects front center, but I think you could benefit from shifting angles and perspectives. A good example of this is #11. #8 and #12 nearly break away from the front-center mold but don’t quite manage. #8 keeps is weighted toward the bottom right but the upper left corner of the water box keeps the eye within the central border of the picture. #12 is similarly weighted but the convergence of the roads takes the eye back to the center. In general, your pictures happen in the fore or mid-ground. This certainly helps underline the strength of the subject matter, but there is little further composition to tease the eye–and then the heart and mind–further into the pictures. Whereas #11 accomplishes this technically through a diagonal and a vanishing point, #15 accomplishes this both technically (and I feel) emotionally. #15 is more compelling because the protagonist is supported visually and symbolically. Alternatively you could use the entire frame more powerfully. This is perhaps the only real variation I see in your front stage presentation. When you do it, as in #24, it is extremely powerful. #18 toys with this (and vanishing point/diagonal) successfully as well, but the upper left of the picture is mostly abandoned by the eye.

    – You seem to have a good eye for finding frames within frames or secondary grounding points. Perhaps you could experiment with more negative space, thereby giving many of your images a less constrained feeling. I realize that is a tall order with a 6×6.

    – I find inclusion of the negative lines a bit too gimmicky. This is ultimately a matter of taste, but ask yourself if it adds to your work, and if so is it because it REALLY adds something, or is it acting as a crutch to other elements, or is it pandering to a fad that could (unintentionally) be interpreted as saying “look, I use negatives, and artsy 6×6 negatives at that”? I’m not suggesting this is why you have included them, but I anticipate somebody will indeed think that. In an inverse situation, ask yourself how you feel about photographers who include a white margin around their pictures. What does that do (if anything) for you? You’ve essentially done the same but using the black space of exposed film.

    – 2,3,10, 21 I find a bit flat, but monitors being what they are, and high contrast situations make this a tricky call and to a certain point irrelevant.

    – small but important technical issue with your caption. At 1,700 inhabitants La Chureca is actually rather miniscule by world standards. Perhaps you are using different parameters, but India, Mexico, Brazil and Morocco–but to name a few– all have much larger communities established over various land fills and dumps. If you are interested in these communities I can suggest the municipal landfill outside of Salvador Bahia, where the inhabitants believe the igniting methane flames from below (coming out of their latrines) are the spirits of the land. Alternatively the dump on the way to Puebla, near Cd. Neza in Mexico City, has one of the largest communities and even boasted its own “millionaires” who made their fortunes finding treasures and recycling. The communities in both of these reaches into various thousands.

    On the softer side, and strictly personal:

    – I have a prejudice to overcome, and that is one of feeling you are seeing this through the eyes of a visitor–and a Western visitor at that. Therefore you find this human story within the confines of suffering (particularly by your standards) compelling. I almost feel this panders to a European and Western audience of the “bleeding heart” type, who is amazed that the human spirit could exist in such conditions. But you know what? The human spirit prevails in most conditions despite its surroundings. For those of us who live along side this and battle with the inequalities it presents, this is nothing new and for the most part (perhaps unfortunately) this type of essay does little to move us. Perhaps we are to o jaded, too accustomed…or perhaps your images, by reinforcing the front center presentation lack a compelling tease or alternative to see beyond the facts we know too well.

    – It is hard for me to overcome this view with many of your images a)because I find the technical presentation too straight forward and matter-of-fact, and because of that (and echoing I comment I read earlier) you b) seem to lack a connection with the subjects. They seem to frequently be on display (1,3,9,14,21) or distracted by something that betrays their lack of connection to you, 19 being the strongest example, but also evidenced by the various pictures you take from behind the subjects.

    Summing this ephemeral issue I do not feel you are entirely honest with yourself or the subject. Something is holding out from you. I cannot look at these and feel a personal signature or footprint except through the obvious consistency of the theme and repeated use of a type of presentation (that in my opinion) detracts from the subject rather than adding your presence to it. Hence I have a lingering taste that you are taking advantage of a naturally explosive and empathetic subject with your audience, to gloss over your shyness and lack of presence, or simply present something that is convenient to you but is not completely earnest with the people you photograph.

    I present all of this recognizing that I am looking at this through an artistic perspective rather than a photojournalistic one, so please keep that in mind and feel free to discard this.

  48. Hmmm, couldn’t disagree more with nearly all of that Jan, despite the leading “favorable inclination.” That said, it is a thoughtful critique clearly delivered. It’s obvious I would never make it in the fine art world, especially since my black Jerry t-shirt doesn’t come as a turtleneck, or was that passe 30 years ago?

    I found Brian’s essay to be a completely honest, thoughtful and masterful photo essay rendered with superb technical detail. One of the best I have seen in a while, anywhere. I never thought twice about it. Jan, you do bring up a good point about perspectives. In many aspects I suppose we are still very tribal in nature, even if we are very smart about it.

  49. Brian,

    i still stand firm by my first post, i think that post is truly honest and accurate. But i think that post is also incomplete.

    Jan’s post is entirely complete. You could do loads worse than to understand exactly ever single word he says (he’s very efficient).

    you might choose to disagree with some of his views (i don‘t), but know for certain why you do and know for certain that your different view is a matter of personal taste verse pure ambitious intent.

    sorry to sound patronising, but truly best wishes Brian, i will be very interested in your next steps and i will of course be a patron of your work.

    Thanks Jan,

    for giving me loads to think about, i hope you find it appealing to make similar contributions in the future. i’ve certainly been reflecting a bit now on this effort and suspect i will still be doing so for quite some time.

  50. A lot has been said, propably I am just repeating others here. But still: This essay is very very beautiful, in a quite and melancholic way. Your portraits as well as your reportage pictures are both amazingly strong, somehow they remains me a little bit of Mary Ellen Mark. But you have really managed to create your own story. In fact, I think all these pictures are very good. But some are just incredible good, and if you thighten your edit, they will get even better. But I quess it s the point to show a wider edit here on BURN.

  51. jan. You sound like an engineer. Clinical. Always dissecting with the mind. you seem to favor a style of picture that requires, not just words, but also an understanding of the specific language that those words describe to fully appreciate them. An ‘intelectual’ approach to frames if you like. While this is obviously no less/more valid than say a purely emotive approach, i do find it slightly ‘condescending’ [but I am sure that is just me].
    photography is a broad church though and your critique of this essay is surely just as valid as my ,or anyones, rebuttal or support of it. I hope that doesnt sound harsh, it is not meant to.

  52. Joe, would like to contact you offline: contact@smithjan.com Cheers

    Cheers John G, no harshness perceived

    Brian, keep at it, although it may sound like I dropped a brick, I find the essay very good and evocative.

  53. Jan,

    I disagree that including the black border of an exposed negative is in anyway “gimmicky.”

    Full frame printing verifies that the photograph was taken with film, and that the photographer composed the image on site, in the viewfinder.

    Since most photography these days is digital, and often composition is corrected by cropping the shot later in Photoshop, I would hardly label this sophisticated and purist approach to photography as “pandering to a fad.”

  54. Dear Brian,

    I am curious to know what the reaction of the children/subjects were to your photographs. Did you have a chance to show your work to them? What feedback if any did you get from them?

    Also – did you get photo releases from the subjects? I have read that this is a pretty standard practice for documentary photography but I am curious on how it actually plays on the field. Do you get photo releases before or after taking the photos?



  55. panos skoulidas

    John Gladdy
    March 24, 2009 at 7:06 am
    jan. You sound like an engineer. Clinical. Always dissecting with the mind. you seem to favor a style of picture that requires, not just words, but also an understanding of the specific language that those words describe to fully appreciate them. An ‘intelectual’ approach to frames if you like.

    ….. laughing…….
    I’m with u john…. spot on…..
    I cant stand that “intellectual” approach either….


  56. I agree with David Rozing’s post that says the introductory message is somewhat inconsistent with the photographs! I get a feeling of passiveness and loneliness from the story and can not see the curious, playful and passionate side – the author suggested he would explore.

  57. Jan, I think you bring very important points to be considered in the second, “soft” part of your post.

    Points which finding the essay “completely honest, thoughtful and masterful photo essay rendered with superb technical detail” (Young Tom is right after all, it is as such) does not address at all. The very fact of what Brian is doing, not with a camera, but being there (with a camera) forces questionning, and self-questionning if in his shoes.

    Definitely, even if he feels for his subjects, he is not with them, a distance is not bridged. Or actually it is repeated or even confirmed (tourist/indigenous, 1st world/3rd world, feeling/living) .

    Most people here, as I read them, fellow western-educated mostly, do not feel it has to be bridged, or would say so. Eventually, I think it matters and I do think it is Brian’s next step. Be totally inside his subject, get closer, and not just with his feet. If Brian, you were to have been more inside than you show, I must wonder what you found lacking in these pictures, not shown here.

  58. Slight tangent to try and rectify some of my thoughts.

    We’ve had a few essays so far on burn which have been decried as exploitative so far.

    I don’t feel that this essay crosses that thin line, but just curious to hear some of the more prolific commenters here view on where that line lies.

    To me this essay feels sincerely compassionate and I love the photos themselves, but at what point does photographing extreme poverty cross over?

    Is it in the approach?
    Is it in the feeling the essay delivers to the majority of viewers?
    or simply the subject matter?

    Any thoughts would be appreciated, trying to jumpstart my brain this morning…

  59. Jared, I need to be more precise. My comment was not about, or if I misspoke, should not be about his or our position vis-a-vis 3r world poverty, but how it is handled with the goal of photography in mind.

    If you go on Pbase, or FlickR, tons of people went to see with their own eyes, these places, few with Brian’s skills, but many I find, with the same frame of mind. Nothing will ever come out of it but a nice gallery on these sites, and possibly some NGO publication/calendar work, or the likes. Absolutely nothing to sneer or spit at or be doubtful of.

    But since we are are here about EMERGING Ps, and not ;-) submerged (in mega photosites) ones, it’s important to look at Brian’s essay in terms of deeper, closer, next-er. As I see this essay, Biran has a lot of exciting challenges ahead. We tend too much to comment here as if the photographer had achieved all he could (I love it, gorgeous, so sensitive, spot on, I am crying, etc…….meaning: do not change a thing). Gee, that’ ll be the day!!!

  60. Herve,

    I didn’t see your post before I posted, so I wasn’t referring directly to you, just something I was thinking about since the essay was published.

    Similar subject matter seems to illicit quite different reactions from people here (and from me) and I’m just trying to put my finger on the why?

  61. Brian,

    The change in order and really changes the mood. I can’t put my finger on it, but I think it infiltrates rather than confronts.

    I am particularly taken in by #3, a new addition. I can’t help but be impartial to the non-center composition I mentioned earlier, and this image is what I had in mind as an alternative to that type of composition in the best of ways.

    I don’t know if you realized it consciously or not, but there is a great deal of harmony in the use of triangles here. You have three heads, reinforced in the center by the angle of her arm and then further underlined by her breast. In the top right you have the pin-points of light that bring the eye up to the black so successfully, and that is counter-weighted by the baby’s eyes and nose and then further touched by her downward glance. The exposure whitening on the left compliments the upper right’s darkness. There is the interplay of the flower’s on the dress and the pin-points of light. If one wanted to, the allegory of the father (substituted for the most Latin of symbols–the Virgin Mary), son, holy ghost (the Trinity and Triangles) could be summened from within thos with religious inclinations–or on a deeper level a human archetype. And to boot, I feel YOU in the picture, as if you managed to rescue something for us to see. I realize this may seem like a technical roadmap to explaining beauty, but I’m only trying to break down the why I find this so powerful and congratulate the marriage of esthetics with your personal signature and magic. Congratulations.

  62. Hi David Allen Harvey/ all,

    Reading your first comment/ reaction, what do you mean by this essay being special in every way?

    Bye, David

  63. Number 3 shows, to me, humanity, family, mother-daughter love. Wonderful work Brian, a very strong essay. You seem to have become invisible; how long did you stay there? More than one trip? As I said earlier, masterful use of the square. I would love to see actual prints. Did you give photographs to your subjects?

    The situation pisses me off. How many doctors etc. are looking for plastic bottles? But beautiful photographs. A paradox.

    Best wishes to all,


  64. Andrea Gjestvang

    Herve..somehow I agree with you, it’s not interesting to discuss and comment if evertthing is perfect and it’s nothing to improve. But still,i do think that when eighty burn readers want to comment and share their thoughts,you will get eighty ways of doing it. Several would propably be very good,but this photographer chose to do it just this way. Which doesn’t mean discussion and comments are wrong or not interesting, just…i don’t know..a bit hypotetic. If you dig deep enough, you’ll always find something.

  65. mike, no it was only one trip. was there for three weeks, but i do hope to go back and when i do i will definitely be carrying prints with me.

    jan, i’m happy i was able to (at least somewhat) win you over.

    jared, i’m glad this hasn’t been seen as exploitative (as least thus far!). but that does happen all too often in this kind of work…

  66. Brian,

    I’m glad as well, I don’t find it to be so.

    Why do you think your work has escaped that all too common critique. Maybe you have some insight into this?

  67. Brian, thanks for the reply. I hope you make it back there.

    Andrea, “Which doesn’t mean discussion and comments are wrong or not interesting, just…i don’t know..a bit hypotetic. If you dig deep enough, you’ll always find something.” yes; to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln “You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not please all of the people all of the time”. Brian, to your own self be true. I’m sure that you are. Thank you for expanding our understanding.


  68. Yeah, but Lincoln told the North what they wanted to hear when he spoke to them and was totally contradictory when he spoke to the South… just sayin’ :)

  69. Andrea, I, too, have a problem with photographic critique. I mean; you show someone a photograph and they say “There’s a dust spot in the sky”. You say “No, it’s not a dust spot; it’s a pedantic being thrown from an airplane: what about the CONTENT of the photograph?”. They say “The horizon is not quite straight”. You say “The world is fucking round, of course the horizon is not straight”…..

  70. panos skoulidas

    “………….. it’s a pedantic being thrown from an airplane……….”

    Ahhh Mike…
    you have the best-est
    sense of humor around here………
    love u man


    sorry, i should have said :

    this essay could have been just another one of dozens and dozens of stories done on people living in trash dumps …if a photographer told me that she/he has done a story on families living in a trash dump, my eyes would probably glaze over…

    there are so so many such stories all just playing on the uniqueness and obvious “drama” …

    however, because of his RAW TALENT as a photographer and his clear humanity, Brian Shumway has taken us away from one of the cliches in photojournalism and drawn us into the power of his vision which transcends purely “documentary”…

    i could pull out many “stand alone” photographs from this set….however, together they form a unique whole…Brian is definitely a photographer we will all be seeing him in the future…..yes, the man is special..keep an eye on him…

    cheers, david

  72. Hi David Alan Harvey/ all,

    Thank you, appreciate it! Besides this one just not being one’s cup of tea, I think with this work the more experienced eye is able to appreciate it differently or perhaps more (generally speaking) than one who f.e. hasn’t seen such a wide variety (or on this subject many stereotypes) of essays/ series. Looking/ being aware of f.e. the approach to the subject, the subtle/ delicate, every day-life way of showing this place instead of screaming it at you.
    It is outside the box, for me, I sort of sensed this essay is different/ good, it put me off in the first place and it took me little more time to find out/ see why. That f.e. this “perspective” and in result the type of images, on first glance also a bit dull/ passive to me, actually is one of it’s real strenghts. I think this work has a very strong energy, whether you like this feel or not..I don’t really like the feel, but you just can’t ignore it, I think that is something good/ special. In this case I feel/see the subject more than the photography-/ style- part of it, while this part also being strong, but not dominant to the subject. For me one of the reasons why I do like it a lot. Burn: Very inspiring, thanks (and all others) for these insights and this excellent platform, looking forward to upcoming essays/ singles!

    Bye, David

  73. I think the photos themselves are beautiful but I do not feel they represent the writing below. It seems that you are showing the typical, which is poor, sad, lonely children in a terrible environment. But before looking at those photos and from just reading your description I was expecting more, it sounded like you were going to show some of the beauty of childhood even if living in such a terrible place, that is what I got out of your written essay.

    One thing I like about the movie Slumdog Millionaire is it kind of does that a bit, even though the conditions are awful there are scenes where when they are little children that show the beauty of childhood, the fun and grace of being children. In environments that are over run with children when they are little there is a certain freedom and fun they have that ends most of the time way too early and sad, but many times it is the best times of their lives too. There are also other movies and books I have read that show this. For me that is one of the beautiful parts of being a child, their brains are wired differently and they can actually figure out ways to laugh and do crazy fun things in the worst of conditions while when we become adults our minds change and it is so hard to do and drugs become a means of trying to escape our mind from the reality.

  74. The new sequencing works much much better imo. There are still a few images that leave me cold though and don’t really add imo like the two kids at the end (in hammock and on ground). Yes, it shows their condition, but not much more than that. I want more “moments” (like #3!) but of course that may only come in time with repeat visits.

    A better title might be “The Children of La Chureca” as well, because I imagine that la Chureca is a lot more than just children.

    Anyway, a moving piece and makes me feel privileged to be living the life I am.

  75. Wow, this is a fantastic essay. Beautiful in a sad way, and IMO succeeds in expounding on the basic premise that despite the squalid conditions, life, humanity, love, and even joy persist. I love the composition and the tonality. Bravo, Brian!

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