Rarely will an assignment described as A Load of Rubbish by the person who submits it go on to win accolades in a national competition. Yet a photo essay by Trobe University student Daniel Quinlan dealing with people who live and work in a Thai rubbish dump has done just that.
It has been ‘highly commended’ in the Best Photojournalism category of the latest Ossie Awards by the Journalism Education Association of Australia. The awards commemorate Australian journalist, war correspondent and writer Osmar White who died in 1991.
Mr Quinlan lives in Phnom Penh and studies La Trobe’s Online Photojournalism course. His photographic essay captured daily life in a rubbish dump in Mae Sot, a Western Thailand town near the border with Burma.
Hat trick of awards
Senior lecturer in photojournalism Julie Millowick said this was the third year in a row that a La Trobe Online Photojournalism student has been recognised at the Ossie Awards.
The course enables students to ‘speak’ with their own voice, she said, giving them the technical skills to do so.
‘Their work shows that they embrace our teaching with passion and commitment,’ she added.
Mr Quinlan said Mae Sot, on the Asia Highway, is an historic and important trading point. ‘As Burma opens up, Mae Sot is experiencing an increase in trade and investment, and looks set to fulfil its geographical potential as the cross roads of Asia.’
Yet the people shown in his work are trying to survive in desperate conditions.
Incredibly efficient recycling
Mr Quinlan said booming Asian economies have led to increasing problems with consumption, waste and rubbish.
‘My work was not only about that waste, but also an incredibly efficient recycling system and the people, often unseen, who survive and build a life around rubbish.
‘These people are doing the best they can while providing a service more valuable to society than is reflected by the meagre money they are paid.
‘It is about the people who, in this world-wide era of sustainability and “green values”, do the dirty work, reclaiming and recycling the rubbish of those further up the socio economic scale.’
Mr Quinlan, who has always loved photography, moved to the Thai-Burma border two years ago after his girlfriend got a job in the area.
Honed thinking and practical skills
‘I decided to improve my photographic skills and learn how to use photography to tell stories or communicate ideas,’ he said.
After seeking advice on the internet and from other photographers, he heard about La Trobe’s online course and decided to enroll.
‘I wanted to learn in a more systematic and structured environment and to get my work critiqued in a constructive way,’ he said.
‘The course has connected me with the history of photojournalism, which I found both interesting and useful (and) helped hone both my technical skills, my thinking and approach to photography.’
La Trobe ‘s previous Online Photojournalism winners were Paige Hortin who took out the inaugural 2011 for a work titled Our beautiful gift was wrapped in ugly paper and Anette Moen who followed in 2012 with images of Burlesque.