Portraits from the Naila Lahore’s Waste Water Problem, Malcolm Hutcheson's photography

Malcolm Hutcheson Portraits from the Naila Lahore’s Waste Water Problem

Erfan, age 18 years, stands in a pool of waste water and sewage which collects in the dry river bed providing the only available water for buffalos to bath in, 2008

Rizwan Sadir, a wrestler and factory worker, showers from a hand pump next to the Ravi. Hand pumps are not deep enough to avoid the polluted water, 2008

Valad, aged 15 years, has been herding buffalos for 5 months. He earns 33 euros per month. He removes his shoes as they get stuck in the black mud surrounding the pool of waste water where the buffalo bath at Khokhar Pind, Bund Rd. Lahor, 2008

For 10 years, Mohammad Jawad with his son, Mohammad Nadim, collects sacks of sludge from the sewer of the Misri Shah metal market in Badami Bagh. He then brings them to the Shahdara Town waste water outflow where he pans the sludge to recycle the metal, 2008

Soorig Massi and Sunni Massi pan for gold from the sewer of Rang Mahal Gold Market. They can find small specs of gold that have been swept down the drain during the manufacturing of gold jewellery, 2008

Mohammad Shahad, assistant government officer for WASA, the Water and Sanitation Agency, and Shaukut Massi, 15 years a drain cleaner sit outside there office at Circular Road, near Mochi Gate Lahore. Massi means follower of Christ, 2008

Javaid Massi, age 35yrs, is entering the deep sewer at Shalmi Bazaar Lahore. His father before him did this job. To save his clothes he puts on some jogging pants. There is no safety equipment, not even gloves, 2008

Pervaiz Massi hold the only remaining photograph of his brother, Ashraf Massi, at his grave side. He died while cleaning a sewer pipe in Bachwa Colony, Bagdami Bagh, Lahore, during the rains in January, 2008

Artist's statement

Exposing the negative turns present into past. Unfortunately photography cannot look into the future. It is primarily concerned with highlighting the problems not in describing the solutions. But when it comes to recording a plainly untenable situation it is powerfully persuasive. I work in Pakistan with a traditional handmade wooden camera in which I develop the negatives at the time of exposure, a sort of primitive Polaroid.

It is time consuming, an audience gathers, the subject remains motionless for the exposure, usually over a second and every photograph becomes an interactive event. The negative bares the marks of the camera and of the processing conditions. There is nothing candid about this work yet I hope it is revelatory, of the people and of their lives. Pakistan suffers from an increase in demand for water and a reduced capacity to supply it. Compounding this are two additional problems: a lack of government activity and ignorance amongst the population as to the dangers of pollution. In Lahore people have had other things on their minds. There have been bombings, political uncertainty, rising food prices, and the lack of electricity which causes six hours of power cuts per day across the entire city. The last of these problems is due to bad planning and little investment in the major infrastructure needed with the high rate of population growth. A similar situation exists in the water economy.

The result is a poorly maintained, antiquated sewage system. 90% of Lahore’s sewage, domestic and industrial, pours untreated into the local aquatic environment. It flows mainly into the Ravi River which lies on the edge of the city. However, for several months of the year the waters of the Ravi are diverted for irrigation and then the waste water collects in stagnant pools in the dry river bed, the banks of which are lined with rubbish. It is difficult to think of a better way to leach toxins into the ground water reserves. The pollution of this sweet water is such that the municipal wells have to be sunk deeper each year. Toxins have reached as far as 100 metres down into the groundwater. Though unaware of the long term risks to health, it is never out of choice that people work in such disagreeable conditions. These photographs show the people who have to work with waste water, either maintaining the system or making money from using it.

About the photographer


1966, Pakistan



Based in

Lahore, Pakistan

About Malcolm Hutcheson

Malcolm Hutcheson works in Pakistan with a traditional handmade wooden camera from which he develops negatives at the time of exposure. He has shown his work in international exhibitions at various galleries in Lahore. The Photographers’ Gallery, London and the Nordlicht, Kiel. He won an Observer Hodge Award in 1996 and his book The Majesty of Mughal Decoration: The Art and Architecture of Islamic India was published by Thames and Hudson in 2007. He is Assistant Professor of Photographic Arts and the School of Visual Arts, Beaconhouse National University, Lahore.