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Shine Heroes

Federico Estol (Uruguay)

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 is the use of ski masks so they will not be recognized by those around them. They confront the discrimination they face through these masks; 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 center of the city from El Alto.

​The mask is their strongest identity, what makes them invisible while at the same time unites them. This collective anonymity makes them tougher when facing the rest of society and is their resistance against the exclusion they suffer because they carry out this work.

​For three years I have been collaborating with sixty shoe shiners associated with the NGO “Hormigón Armado”. We planned together the scenes during a series of graphic novels workshops, incorporating the local elements of the urbanity of El Alto and producing photographic sessions with them as co-authors of a street photo-essay to fight against their social discrimination.


Uruguayan artist and photographer. Currently working as a social visual storyteller in the Latin American region, also as the artistic director of SAN JOSÉ FOTO festival and as editor of El Ministerio Ediciones publishing house. Regional jury for World Press Photo 2023.

He has been selected in festivals as Noorderlicht photofestival (NL), Athens photofestival (GR), Les Rencontres de Arles and Circulation(s) (FR), FORMAT photofestival (UK), Fotofestiwal Lodz (PL), Verzasca Foto (CH), Aleppo photofestival (SR), Backlight photofestival and Helsinki photofestival (FIN), Head On Photofestival (AUS), Festival Internazionale di Roma and Cortona On the Move (IT) , Lishui Photofestival (CHI), FIF Bello Horizonte and Valongo (BR), San José Foto (UY), Indian Photo Festival (IN), Getxophoto and Fotonoviembre (SP), FELIFA and Biennale of Tucumán (AR), Addis Foto Fest (ET), Fotofest Bolivia (BO), Photo Israel (IS), Kaunas Photo (LI), Malmö Fotobiennal (SWE), Dong Gang photofestival (KO) and Encontros da Imagem (PT).

He has been included in exhibitions at Aperture Foundation (New York), Le Centquatre (Paris), Village of Photography (Yeongwol), Blue Sky Gallery (Portland), Photographic Centre Nykyaika (Tampere), Casa Nacional del Bicentenario (Buenos Aires), Contemporary Art Space (Montevideo), Kunsthal Art Museum (Rotterdam), MACRO Museum (Rome) and GNration (Braga).

His works and publications are in various private and public collections such as the FOLA Latin American Photo collectión in Buenos Aires, The Institute of Latin American Studies IHEAL of the University Sorbonne in Paris, Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Museu da Fotografia in Fortaleza, Lishui Photography Museum China and the Tbilisi Photography & Multimedia Museum.

He has received several awards, grants and scholarships, recently honoured with the New Visions Award at Cortona On the Move festival in Italy and the Photolucida Award 2021 from the Oregon Center for the Photographic Arts EEUU. Nominee for Prix PICTET, the Paris Photo–Aperture Photobook Award and the Meitar Award for Excellence in Photography.