Poverty has hounded the Philippines since time immemorial and has become a common theme in various media. For Sidney Snoeck, a Belgian social documentary photographer who has developed a fondness for the country’s varying shades of local color, reality may be grim for the families who populate the shanty-filled realms of Manila, but the stigma of destitution may be relegated to the outskirts of memory in favor of a more optimistic disposition. His series, Happy Land, is a testament to such.
The impoverished side of Tondo was the chosen backdrop for Sidney’s work, characterized by rubbish-strewn thoroughfares and homes made from discarded panels. Taking the trash as a source of livelihood and leisure, many of the families try to lead normal lives with the barest of necessities. Kids rummage for toys while adults salvage objects to sell or turn into makeshift home items.
Sidney captures the dichotomy between poor living conditions and the populace’s seemingly upbeat mood in a moving depiction of irony. The human spirit is delicately preserved in black and white, with the children finding amusement in their makeshift toys and adults contently engaging in their daily activities as if they are situated in a more pristine environment.
Delving further, Sidney’s images carry a recurring dark tone that evokes a foreboding feeling in spite of the cheerfulness or contentment of his subjects. The viewer senses that their optimistic stance is fleeting, potentially turning into dread once the harshness of their setting prevails over their day-to-day lives. After all, the threat of disease and the lack of nutrition, respectively stemming from poor sanitation and low income, are ever-present, and help is certainly needed.
All told, Sidney Snoeck intends to make the viewer feel a wide range of emotions in looking through Happy Land. One can draw inspiration from the resiliency of his subjects, be in awe at crispness of the images, and empathize with the harrowing plight of the community. Ultimately, the series aims to move viewers to take action and help place a more permanent smile on the faces of Tondo’s urban poor.