Let's talk

The secret lives of Madrid’s shanty town kids

2 December 2019

This summer, children living in Sector 6 of the Cañada Real (Europe’s largest shanty town, just a 15-minute drive from Madrid) were given disposable cameras by photographer Carlos Gutiérrez, who asked them to take pictures of their day-to-day lives. Over one month, 39 children took more than 450 photos between them. Gutiérrez collected the cameras and developed the films, and the secret world of the Cañada kids emerged before his eyes. 

Smiley portraits of friends, stills of meals, candid shots of families and hot, arid landscapes are all taken just three or four feet off the ground by kids as young as six. What we can see is that life in the Cañada is tough, but between the harsh landscape, makeshift housing and burning rubbish, there are moments of fun and games.

Sector 6 of the Cañada Real is home to 1,211 children, many of whom are Roma. It’s the newest, largest and poorest sector of the 16-km shanty town. Growing up in the most notorious area in Madrid is a childhood you wouldn’t wish upon anyone, and it comes with strong stigmas that will stay with these children well into their adult lives. These kids were born underdogs and are on a trajectory to remain underdogs thanks to unfair stigmas placed upon them by the vast majority of Madrid’s residents.

But, this series of photographs hopes, for at least a moment, to steer the attention away from Sector 6’s notoriety and shine a warm light on the lives of the children living here. A community that has been misunderstood for decades is reaching out and wants you to look and listen.

Below, three children squeeze into two seats on a school bus. This bus is a lifeline for the Cañada kids, but it’s overly stretched and under-resourced. This route covers much of the 16km neighbourhood meaning the kids often turn up late to school – a telltale sign to their teachers and piers that they live in the Cañada, even though this is something many try to hide for fear of discrimination.

This photography project is called ‘Mi Mirada (my glance) – Cañada Real’, and I’m am honoured that Madrid No Frills is the first publication to publish these incredible photographs.

An exhibition of these photos can be found in La Fábrica de los Muebles, the social centre in Sector 6, adorning the walls of the corridors where the very children who took them pass.


For the kids of the Cañada, the world they live in has been normalised. But, for us, it’s shocking. What these photographs do is tell a story – one that’s written in a language we all understand. By speaking to you clearly and concisely, the hope is that the message you’re receiving will continue to be transmitted through the simple act of sharing. Raising awareness of the problem is a step towards taking action – action that the government have “forgotten” to take for too long.

Share the secret lives of the Cañada’s shanty town kids, and their next photography project might look very different.




I created this blog with one intention: to amplify the voices of those who don’t have their own platform. I do this with absolute refusal to let rich brands and those in a position of privilege influence what I publish: no ads, no sponsors, no investors.

I must keep telling those hard-hitting stories of inequality and discrimination, keep pushing overlooked businesses, and keep delivering the independent journalism this city so badly needs without anyone telling me what I can and can’t say. But in order for this project to keep growing, I’m asking for your help.

Support MNF for as little as $1 per month, which you can cancel at any time. 

By becoming a paying Patron, you will gain immediate access to all my secret, behind-the-scenes posts where I talk about my creative process as well as the challenges of single-handedly running an outspoken publication. You will also tap into my global travel guides, and receive a map of over 500 Madrid locations that few ever realise exist.

You may also like

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


(for locals)?

Enter your email and I’ll send it to you this very minute…



Delivered directly to your inbox once a month…