Photo by Federico Estol

Shine Heroes

There are 3000 shoe shiners who go out into the streets of La Paz and El Alto suburbs each day in search of clients. They are from all ages and in recent years have become a social phenomenon in the Bolivian capital.

What characterizes this tribe of shoe shiners is the use of ski masks so they will not be recognized by those around them. Wanting to keep themselves, and how they earn a living, a secret they use the masks to maintain their own social control. In their neighbourhoods no one knows that they work as shoe shiners, at school they hide this fact, and even their own families believe they have a different job when they head down to the centre of the city from El Alto.

The mask is their strongest identity, making them invisible but at the same time uniting them with this facial uniform. This collective anonymity makes them tougher when facing the rest of society and is their resistance against the social stigma they would otherwise suffer because of the work they do

For three years Federico Estol has been collaborating with sixty shoe shiners to make the project Shine Heroes. Together they plan the pre-scripted scenes during a series of graphic novels workshops, incorporating the local elements of the urban architecture of El Alto and directing photographic sessions with them, enabling them as co-authors of a collaborative photo essay to fight against their own social discrimination.