Shine Heroes
Federico Estol

May 21, 2022 – Sept. 11, 2022
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From 21 May, Kunsthal Rotterdam is presenting the exhibition Shine Heroes by the Uruguayan photographer Federico Estol (1981). Shine Heroes presents the story of shoe shiners in the Bolivian capital La Paz, and the suburb El Alto. Wearing their characteristic ski masks and goggles, each day thousands of them venture into the city to earn a living. These disguises ensure their anonymity – enabling many of them to keep their job a secret, as it is looked down on by society – while at the same time contributing to forging a shared identity and visibility in the urban landscape. With Shine Heroes, Estol is changing the narrative surrounding the shoe shiners. He portrays them as superheroes, thus redefining the position of this marginalised group in society.

For his photo series, Estol spent three years working with a group of sixty shoe shiners: people of all ages and from different backgrounds who feel compelled to shine shoes to get by. They are all affiliated to the social organisation Hormigón Armado, which helps them to
earn some additional income by publishing a monthly street newspaper. In close collaboration with the shoe shiners, Estol decided to publish a special edition of this newspaper in which he reinterprets their story on the basis of a participatory process. In doing so, he is questioning the relationship between the photographer and the subject while exploring the social power of photography.

Superpowers

With the help of imagery that refers to graphic novels and comic books, Estol is depicting the shoe shiners as Shine Heroes. The urban environment of La Paz and the local architecture in El Alto form the backdrop for action scenes and portraits in which the Shine Heroes pose proudly and fearlessly in front of Estol’s lens. Here the shoe shiners’ everyday attributes, such as mirrors and brushes, are no longer used as tools, but have transformed into means of communication between the superheroes.

Federico Estol 

The Uruguayan photographer Federico Estol (1981) graduated from the Image Processing and Multimedia Technology Centre at BarcelonaTech, the Technical University of Catalonia. He has been selected for international photography festivals, including The Circulation(s) Festival (2022), Format Festival (2021), and Brighton Photo Fringe Festival (2020), and has won several awards for his work, including the Latin American Photobook Award of the Centro de Fotografía de Montevideo (2014). Estol is also the artistic director of the festival SAN JOSÉ FOTO in Uruguay.

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See also

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Two female shoe shiners beginning the working day, La Paz Bolivia, 2018 © Federico Estol
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Three shoe shiners starting working in the el Prado street, La Paz Bolivia, 2018 © Federico Estol
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The shine hero running to the city of La Paz from El Alto City, La Paz Bolivia, 2018 © Federico Estol
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