Most people would see mounds of trash as…trash. But Indian American photojournalist Mandira Bahl decided to look beyond the dirt.

The New York-based photographer decided to focus on the trajectory of that garbage through a new photo essay, “Garbage City,” which is about the business of garbage that is no longer just a disposed lot.

The project is about a group of rag pickers based in Okhla, a small town located on the outskirts of New Delhi.

“Having always wondered what happens to the garbage (which is manually collected by people in India) once the tiny tipper carts pick it up, this project was conceived out of sheer inquisitiveness,” Bahl said.

The piece is divided into sections based on the various milestones the trash crosses till it finally reaches a plant where it can be treated. Through this journey one discovers the parts various catalysts like society, economy, politics and sustainability play.

It took more than a week of following this group of rag pickers for Bahl to understand this prominent yet silent business angle, certainly not visible on the surface of this profession. 

“The journey the garbage takes is a long, tiresome one with money, trading and competition being highlighting elements,” noted Bahl, a graduate of New York’s International Center of Photography. “These aspects turn it into a business rather then it just being the act of rag picking. Families are involved in this task, making it a lineage of some sort and a matter of pride for some.”

Bahl notes on her website that the rag picking community is a very close knit one. “Amazingly, there is ambition and also an acute lack of awareness,” she writes. “Obtaining good education for their children is a common aspiration for this community, like a passport to freedom. All that is needed is for our society to recognize them and reach out to them.”

According to Bahl, “Garbage City” gives an insight into one of the many secrets the garbage that people generate can possibly hide within itself.

“It celebrates the practical cost of what an ordinary bag of tied waste may be worth with the quantity of it being a different matter altogether,” she said.

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