Carmen Sayago: Birds of Pollution

Carmen Sayago’s photos of women living with multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome is the second runner up in the series category of the 2019 Focus on the Story Awards. She is a documentary photographer based in Spain. Her work mainly focused in social issues. Since 2016, she has worked on a project related to pollution and climate change. Her images have been published in many international publications, including Days Japan, Il Reportage, XL Semanal, El Mundo and Vanity Fair. Her work has been honored with Finalist Luis Valtueña Awards(2018); winner editorial environmental ND Awards (2018); Photon Scholarship (2018); finalist La Máquina Scholarship (2018), finalist Signoeditores Numen Awards (2018); Honorable Mention International Photography Awards (2017); selected The Biennial Grant Ma (2017); honorable mention Monovisions Awards (2017).

From her submission: “We live in a highly industrialized society in which we coexist daily with an environment saturated with chemical substances. We eat them, we breathe them, we touch them … For the majority of the population, many of these elements are harmless, but not for everyone. Dizziness, vomiting, fatigue or loss of consciousness are some of the symptoms that people with multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome (MCS) have to deal with on a daily basis. Known colloquially as environmental disease, this pathology has its origin in the adverse reaction to various chemical compounds present in our food and environment. Those affected by this syndrome live ignored by institutions, by doctors and, even, misunderstood by an environment unable to recognize an imperceptible condition, which can not see or touch, nor feel, deriving patients to a social condemnation in which even questions their psychological integrity. Birds of pollution collects the life of a series of women affected by MCS who need seclusion to survive, since they must obey a strict protocol that avoids contact with these chemicals or with people who have been exposed to these substances. The purpose is to keep away from home a threat that keeps their lives under a constant invisible danger, in a claustrophobic routine full of shadows. The home becomes an isolation chamber, perspective is lost and the relationship with an outside world is becoming unreal.”

All images © Carmen Sayago. You can see more of her work on her website.

"I had symptoms since I was very young", describes Victoria (45) who suffers from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) and Electrical Sensitivity. "Although the manifestations of the disease increased over the years, I continued to hide it because the tendency of everyone around me was to ridicule it. I tried to fit in socially. I wasn't taking care of my body," she says.
Twenty years later Victoria lives in Tarifa, Cadiz. She doesn't feel comfortable at home due to the harassment and abuse of the neighbors: “not only the don't help me, but they even bully me”, she confesses “I have worked hard to adapt my house to be able to live in it, and their actions to force me to leave it have only made my condition and whole situation worsen”, Victoria explains with sorrow.
Daily, we breathe more than 300,000 chemical substances contained in the air.
Rosa suffers from multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) and electrosensitivity, a reaction to any electrical radiation, Wi-Fi, antennas or electronic devices. She must wear a mask with an activated carbon filter to prevent inhalation of chemicals and also, a shielding fabric formed by cotton threads and silver to prevent electromagnetic radiation.
Their homes have become isolation chambers.
Isabel (51) and her daughter MARI CARMEN (13) live in Valencia. Both are affected by MCS and electrosensitivity. In order to eliminate the waste that accumulates in her body, Isabel uses a portable sauna to take detoxifying treatments.
LEO (58) suffers from MCS. She lives protected in her small environment in the heart of Madrid. She has developed a deep fear of smoke or gases. She often wakes up surprised in the middle of the night smelling of something burning. When she feels ill, she usually locks herself in her room in the dark until she recovers. Hours can pass.
They lives under a constant invisible danger, in a claustrophobic routine full of shadows and feel like caged birds deprived of their freedom. Like the birds in the mines, they warn us that all the poisons we are exposed to on a daily basis cannot be good for our health.