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East Wing Online Viewing Room on Artsy
Federico Estol – SHINE HEROES
21 May – 30 June 2024

East Wing announces a special viewing room on Artsy, featuring the magical collaboration between photographer Federico Estol and sixty shoe shiners from the suburbs of La Paz and El Alto. Each day three thousand shoe shiners of all ages hit the streets looking for clients. Over time they have become a social phenomenon in the Bolivian capital. Estol has collaborated for over three years with sixty members of “Hormigón Armado,” a local organisation. Through this project Estol has transformed the shiners into superheroes, evoking change through powerful visual storytelling.

© Federico Estol from the series "Shine Heroes"

Sixteen years ago Hormigón Armado  an organisation that supports the shoe shiners launched their first newspaper. Currently, six thousand copies are sold each month, with the proceeds providing additional income to nearly sixty families of shoe shiners. Estol initiated a project to create a special edition of this newspaper through a participatory workshop. This process invited the shoe shiners to reimagine their story in creative new ways. Drawing on the visual language of comic books and graphic novels, and integrating elements of daily life in El Alto, their resulting narrative portrayed the shoe shiners not as outcasts, but as urban super heroes responding to the unwavering local demand for polished footwear.

Images above from left – right:
© Federico Estol , “The Final Fight Against the Mud Man, El Alto” 2018 / “The Watcher of Shine Land, La Paz,” 2017 / “The Heroes in the City, La Paz,” 2018 – all from the series “Shine Heroes”

Initially, the group first employed a documentary approach, but it proved unfeasible due to the negative connotations associated with the ski masks the shoe shiners wore. During the first year in the field, the group shifted to using fiction to avoid emphasising the discrimination they aimed to challenge. The shoe shiners shared characteristics with superheroes: they wore masks in order to conceal their identities, used special tools, had a common shelter or bunker, and upheld a character of righteous assistance by shining citizens’ shoes. Ultimately, they realised staged photography was far more effective in transforming discriminatory attitudes than documenting reality.

Images above from left – right:
© Federico Estol, “The Watcher of Shineland, La Paz,” 2017 / “The Golden Shoes, La Paz,” 2016.  All from the series, Shine Heroes.

Federico Estol (b. 1981) is an Uruguayan photographer and artivist based in Montevideo. He currently works as a visual storyteller producing stories in Latin America, his long-term projects are focused in the relationship between cultural identity, inequality and social justice. Also is the artistic director of SAN JOSÉ FOTO festival and editor of El Ministerio Ediciones photobook publishing house. His works are held in various private and public collections including, Fondazione Orestiadi in Sicilia, FOLA Latin American Photo collection Buenos Aires, The Institute of Latin American Studies IHEAL of the University Sorbonne in Paris, among others.

*50% of artist’s sale proceeds go to support Hormigon Armado Shoeshiners Union in La Paz, Bolivia