ALL IN ALL, not the most attractive of subjects, the world of trash. But it seemed an appropriate assignment for senior writer Peter White, who admittedly hates to throw anything away. A favorite office story concerns the cleaning staff that threw away a huge box marked “Trash,” not realizing it was part of White’s research materials. A painstaking collector of evidence to document his articles, he has more than 100 cartons stored in GEOGRAPHIC archives at last count.
White sorted through other people’s garbage at the Tucson Sanitation Division when he pitched in on the University of Arizona’s Garbage Project, which seeks to learn more about the life-styles of Americans by delving into what we throw away.
Viennese by birth, and a refugee from Nazi-held Austria, White began his journalism career 40 years ago as a copy boy for the now defunct International News Service. He became one of the New York Times Magazine’s most frequent contributors, before joining the GEOGRAPHIC staff in 1956. Since that time he has covered war in Southeast Asia, bathed in a gold bathtub for a story on that precious metal, and most recently reported on Angkor, war-ravaged Kampuchea, and the world of the tropical rain forest.
Treading the muck of a Manila garbage dump in the Philippine Islands, contract photographer Louie Psihoyos (left) fell into a pothole, soiled his clothes, and ruined his shoes. “I went all over town looking for a pair of size 13s, and there weren’t any,” he says. “Finally I had to have a pair made.”
During his nine months on the “urban-ore” assignment, Psihoyos also traveled to France, the Netherlands, Thailand, India, Egypt, and across the U. S. “There is beauty and utility as well as energy in garbage,” he says.
Born in Dubuque, Iowa, Psihoyos became intrigued by photography in high school and sold his interest in an ice-cream company to buy more cameras. He later studied photojournalism at the University of Missouri and interned at the GEOGRAPHIC in 1980. His first assignment, the coalfields of Gillette, Wyoming, was published in the special Energy issue of February 1981.
IT IS WINTER, and I am making my first visit to the old and holy walled city of Jerusalem. Barely have I passed through St. Stephen’s Gate and onto the Via Dolorosa when a young boy smilingly greets me, snatches my pen from my pocket, and runs up a steep path and out of sight.
Forget the pen. The real loss is the fine edge of joy, of celebration—even of innocence—I have honed for this long-awaited little pilgrimage. Cynicism quickly dulls the excitement and turns my thoughts to pickpockets and thieves. I resent the hustling merchants who now jam Christ’s tortuous path to Golgotha with their trinkets and souvenirs. They evoke for me the story of the money changers Jesus chased from the Temple. Historical markers remind me that this holy city has always been home to a succession of very human protagonists. Probably more of its citizens have been robbed, uprooted, and slaughtered over the centuries in the name of religion than those of any other city of comparable size on earth.
And yet it is Jerusalem: sacred to three religions and a crossroads of caravans and conquerors throughout history.
In only minutes I walk from a visit to the great golden Dome of the Rock mosque, past Jewish Sabbath worshipers at the Western Wall, to join a Christian service in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. All the petty pickpockets and assassins of the centuries cannot dim the magic of this ancient city.
The pen is soon forgotten, the thief as well. And the emotional experience is probably all the deeper for having grown from a quick flash of cynicism.
In “This Year in Jerusalem” in this issue, National Geographic photographer Jodi Cobb brings us a sensitive look at both the old and the new city. Associate Editor Joseph Judge distills his long association and fascination with Jerusalem into a beautifully written and passionately objective account of an area that once again is the focus of a festering religious and political confrontation.