skurrel (v): “We collect whatever we can find from the street or bins before the municipality gets it. I start at about half past four every morning; some of the others start later. From there we either take it to the scrap-yard, you know, or we try and sell it during the day. Sometimes we keep things if we can use them. Yesterday I found a fully working toaster, man. Someone had just thrown it away; I got 100 bucks for it. That’s how I survive.” Quinton (September 2012: personal communication)
This body of work is a photographic exploration of the informal economy of skurreling and the individuals who make a living from it. Skurreling (also known as reclaiming, mining, trolley-pushing, waste-picking, recycling, scavenging and grab-grab) is the act of collecting, transporting, sorting and re-selling any available material worthy of recycling. Although this unofficial job title is something outside of the formal sector, it is a significant feature of the recycling industry, which would not function in the same way without it. Skurrelers collect and pack their trolleys with loads of up to 120kg and push them to buy-back depots for distances that can exceed 30km in a singe day. Each day’s pay is dependant on the type and amount of material that is collected – an average day’s pay after a haul is between R150 and R250. Owing to the poverty-stricken living conditions that most skurrelers survive in they are more often than not regarded as a nuisance or simply go unnoticed in the general public’s eye. In order to address this invisibility I felt portraits of skurrelers and trolleys would be a successful genre in which to portray these individuals and this economy. The presence of the portable studio backdrop is a reference to formal portraiture. The use of it as part of my visual language is an attempt to produce formal portraits of those who are participating in a distinctly informal activity. Furthermore, it serves to isolate the subject from the background but does not remove them from their context, which is in the street and on the skurrel.