There are 3,000 shoe-shiners who take to the streets of La Paz and the suburbs of El Alto every day in search of customers. They come from all age groups and have become a social phenomenon in the Bolivian capital in recent years. What characterizes this urban tribe is the use of ski masks to avoid being recognized by those around them. The mask is their strongest identity, making them both invisible and uniting them at the same time.

For three years, I have been working with sixty shoe-shiners who are employed by the “Hormigón Armado” street newspaper. Together, we planned the scenes in a series of graphic novel workshops, taking advantage of the fact that they share similarities with superheroes: a mask to hide their identity, special tools, and a shared shelter. We conducted photo sessions with them as co-authors of an emancipatory narrative aiming at engaging with the pedestrians and changing their social stigma.

Bio: Federico Estol is an Uruguayan photographer and artivist. He currently works as a visual storyteller, producing stories in Latin America. His long-term projects focus on the relationship between cultural identity, inequality and social justice. He is the artistic director of the international festival SAN JOSÉ FOTO and serves as editor of photobooks at El Ministerio Ediciones. His works are represented by East Wing Gallery Doha-Berlin.
His works are included in various private and public collections such as the Fondazione Orestiadi in Sicily, The Institute of Latin American Studies IHEAL of the University Sorbonne in Paris, FOLA Latin American photo library in Buenos Aires, Lishui Photography Museum China, and the Tbilisi Photography & Multimedia Museum.