Portuguese photojournalist Mário Cruz, a two-time World Press Photo Contest winner, will inaugurate a photo exhibition focusing on the “extreme pollution” of the Pasig River in the Philippines at Mar Shopping Algarve in Loulé.
The inauguration will be held at 7pm on Thursday (February 9) and will be attended by the photographer, who will be exhibiting his work “at a shopping centre for the first time” and will be on hand to speak to visitors.
‘Living Among What’s Left Behind’ is a collection of dramatic photographs which show the negligence and industrial development that transformed the Pasig River into an ‘open-air sewer’, as well as the consequences this has had on the local population.
The exhibition also features pieces of rubbish – “which could easily come from our houses” – and which depict the waste that he found in the river.
Speaking to Barlavento newspaper, Mário Cruz expressed his excitement ahead of the inauguration.
“Being in Loulé is extremely important for me. This (shopping centre) is a space usually associated with leisure and consumption. You exit stores having just bought a bunch of things, and suddenly you are confronted with something that is distant but affects us all – everything ends up in the sea,” said Cruz, praising Mar Shopping Algarve’s management for its “bold” decision to host the exhibition.
“It’s a step forward as this exhibition shouldn’t just be shown at museums and galleries,” he said.
The photographer hopes it will have a larger impact on younger generations, although the goal is for “everyone to leave here with something that they weren’t expecting” on their minds.
As Cruz explained, the Pasig River was declared biologically dead in 1990, and since then not much has been done to repair the damage.
While it is often named as an example of “very dark future scenarios”, the photographer stresses that “this is not a future scenario, it is the present and even the past of many thousands of families.”
The exhibition tackles environmental but also social issues which are either “hidden or ignored”.
“Many of the parents of the children in these photos were already born into this environment. We can understand that this is a generational problem and that, decade after decade, people remain without access to basic sanitation, which is somewhat surprising considering the economic development that exists in that country,” Cruz said.
The photos were taken before the pandemic throughout one month in 2018. The actual process of taking photos is what takes up the least of Cruz’s time, he explained.
“I take much longer with the preparations, meeting and speaking to people. These are communities that are completely isolated from the rest of society. They are forgotten, they have no voice. Photography can expose everything from pollution to extreme poverty,” he said.
The 36-year-old also lamented that these issues are usually depicted “very superficially”.
“We often see photos of polluted rivers or decimated forests and cannot understand the impact that it has on people’s lives,” he said.
“I’ve always been interested in narrative photography, which shows the many sides of a problem, instead of summing it all up in one photograph,” said Cruz.
There is extreme inequality in Manila, the capital of Philippines, where 21.6% of the population lives in poverty, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.
“They live off separating rubbish, looking for recyclable materials to sell, driving tuk-tuks or selling garlic. Fishing is so negligible that fishing boats are used to transport people and merchandise,” said the photographer.
“Houses are built with materials that people find in the river. Unfortunately, rubbish is the largest problem, but it is also the solution because otherwise they would not have anything to build with.”
One of the photographs shows just how bad the situation has become.
“It is possible to walk over the water due to the density of the rubbish,” said Cruz.
“Many people have never had a bathroom in their lives. They have never had access to basic sanitation. Sewage systems or wastewater treatment plants are inexistant in some areas. Everything ends up in the river.
“Of course, the river didn’t end up like this solely because of these communities. Industry had a key role in the 1960s and 70s. At the time, there was a large migratory flux. Despite the development, there weren’t enough jobs for everyone. Growth was unequal. The country developed very considerably economically, but the truth is that a part of society was left behind,” the photographer explained.
The exhibition will remain at the shopping centre until April 9 and can be visited every day from 12 noon to 8pm on the first floor near the food court.
“What each person will take from this exhibition is always unpredictable. But I’m certain that after ‘crossing this river’, nobody will remain indifferent,” Cruz added.
Climate neutrality is goal for 2030
Mar Shopping Algarve has announced the goal of achieving “climate neutrality” by 2030.
“We are a shopping centre with environmental and social concerns. We want to contribute to a healthier and more sustainable community,” said Ana Antunes, Meeting Place Manager at Mar Shopping Algarve.
This is why the shopping centre was so open to the idea of hosting the photography exhibition, which raises the issue of “how we treat our rubbish” and how “problems of other countries make us reflect on these issues”, especially in a coastal region like the Algarve.
Original article written by Maria Simiris for Barlavento newspaper