Contemporary. Visual. Stories

Men, machines and dust

By Siddharth Behl

In the urban jungle of Delhi, buildings are built and brought down every day. This endless construction and destruction works in a neat cycle: scraps and raw materials from a demolished building are used to erect a new high-rise.

In north Delhi’s Burari area, a recycling plant is the go-to destination for construction and demolition waste from all over the capital city. Every day, 5000 tons of waste is recycled here.

The list of diverse recycled products includes stones (ranging in size from 10 mm to 60mm), recycled brick powder and hollow cement bricks. But the most popular items are recycled pavement tiles, which are widely used for further construction. Brick tiles, paver blocks, dumbled tiles, interlocking tiles and chequered tiles of different shapes and designs are made out of these pavement tiles using special moulds.

Running a non-stop construction waste recycling unit requires not only heavy-duty machines, but also skilled labour. The indispensable workers who operate the plant are hid behind thick layers of sawdust and can’t be heard over the deafening noise of the machines. With this photo essay, which received the prestigious Neel Dongre grant, Siddharth wanted to capture these men and machines at work.

For Siddharth, the project is a reflection of his fascination with machines and construction. “We are living in a world where architecture is changing constantly…Thinking about the waste from demolition, the question comes, where does the waste go? And I was really interested in knowing,” he says.

He spent time just observing the men at work in daily shifts, surrounded by smoke, dust and noise. The machines seemed like an extension of the humans operating them, almost a body part. In his photos, machines and men appear side by side. In fact, the humans are shot from a distance, never close up. “My theme became humans and machines…I think I can still do more on this project,” he says.

Siddharth pursued a masters degree in Photography and Visual Communications from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He has freelanced for many organisations, including the Archaeological Survey of India. Siddharthh is currently working with the humanitarian organisation SEEDS India, covering stories on disasters all across India and South Asia.