Dignity Amidst the Rubbish

  • Photographer
    Jeffrey Warner
  • Prize
    Honorable Mention

“Dignity Amidst the Rubbish” is a photo book that places holistic reflection upon the lives of a refugee community from Burma that is living amid a rubbish dump located on the Thailand-Burma border.  Although they are living in the bowels of human society, this work focuses not on the deplorable conditions in which they live but is rather an hour-by-hour observation of this community’s cohesion amid an environment of poverty and strife.  Both documenting and reflecting upon this community, this Project also addresses sociopolitical, environmental, human rights, and global society issues.


AUTHOR’S SONG: This journalism-art project comprises photographs, poems, and multi-lingual prose that demonstrates the adaptive resilience of refugees living with dignity while downstream from an ever-growing worldwide culture of ‘development’ and consumerism.

The art and heart of “Dignity” is collaboration. This Project’s candle was lit after a Burmese monk introduced me to the migrant community living at this dumpsite. Deeply moved, I embarked upon a reflective process of troubling, fascinating, and moving documentation. No photograph can reveal the depth of what is occurring daily there. People are living amid deplorable environmental conditions; yet, they sing aloud while using the power of community cohesion and smiles to hang on to the margins of life.

Many of my photographs are of children. Witnessing youth (and adults) living in this atrociously unhealthy environment — some with bare feet, skin sores, and rotting teeth, seemingly unaware that another world exists beyond this dump’s boundaries — was both deeply disturbing and inspiring. I felt called to create something artistic related to global issues — civil journalism work that’s not overly focused on negativity surrounding poverty and strife, but rather builds social capital.

It became obvious that this community’s story needed to be told hour-by-hour. Because as we, those living outside this dumpsite, are going about our daily routines, this community is doing the same. ... I believe that those living at this rubbish dump can teach Us much, particularly about how the inherent goodness of people often prevails and life does go on — even amidst some of the worst living conditions.

If I ever become selfish or ungrateful, I consider how this community lives — without outwardly complaining, while also treating strangers such as myself with respect, openness, and selfless generosity: with dignity.

Welcome, to the Mae Sot Rubbish Dump. ...


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