Brock Stoneham | Recycled

Country of origin: United States
Project location: United States
Program: Magnum Foundation Fellowship
Year: 2014

The lowest on the totem poll carry bags over their shoulders.  If you’re lucky, you find a cart, and if you’re not, you steal one.  Those with money race around the city in vans looking for blue plastic bags while the clever ones rent U-Hauls and wait for the others to come to them. All in the pursuit of a nickel’s worth of aluminum or plastic or glass and the thousands of dollars those nickels add up to for whoever can move the most.

Austin “Guy” Butler has been working the streets of Manhattan for nearly 25 years, digging through bags of refuse, often through the night.

Like in any business, his is built on relationships, both with the other men who share his trade and the building superintendents who expect him to show up outside on trash day. 

Many think he’s homeless.  And he sometimes is. The job beckons those who live on the margins, but it demands dedication to routine and security.

The life is a struggle lived off the books, where success still means getting your hands dirty on the occasional soiled diaper. 

Brock Stoneham is a Los Angeles-based, New Orleans-raised, Austin-educated, New York-humbled and Paris-cultured journalist, photographer, and video producer.  

He is a Magnum Foundation fellow and NBC News video producer whose work has also appeared with MSNBC, FusionGlobal Post, City & State, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, Voices of New York, and Open City.