The Indonesian island of Java is the most populous island in the world, with 141 million people inhabiting its land mass. Like any place with a surplus of people, poverty and distressful living situations are nearly inevitable, an urban phenomenon perhaps best exemplified by the lives of sulfur miners living in Ijen, East Java. For her recent project The Sulfur Miners, Russian photographer Lena Tsibizova ventured to the treacherous volcanoes these miners labor in daily, in order to tell their fascinating story.
Earning the equivalent of approximately $10 USD per day, the miners endure strenuous work conditions, inhaling poisonous sulfur fumes without proper protection. Tsibizova's stark, head-on portraits of the miners showcase the toll of their work. Their often-grizzled faces and uneasy expressions seem both young and old at the same time, worn out to the point of total age ambiguity.
In other moments, Tsibizova turns her lens on the natural landscape within which the miners work, which again showcases an instance of duality. The rough, craggy environment is breathtakingly beautiful, yet with the knowledge of daily hardships incurred, its splendor takes on a tinge of morbidity, evoking a voyeuristic unease in the viewer.
Neither a miner nor Indonesian herself, Tsibizova is also an outsider, but in witnessing their hardships, the photographer sheds light on a difficult situation. "These people deserve respect and attention," she tells Creators. "In contrast to bored office workers sitting in front of monitors with cups of coffee, receiving decent salaries, the lives of these miners are truly hard."
Although the story of Indonesian sulfur miners has been depicted in the media before, Tsibizova believes her project approaches the situation with greater humanity. "You can find images from this place on the web, but they are mostly focused on the process of mining, and not on the people involved in it. I wanted to highlight the people, which is why the series includes so many portraits. The heroes of this story are the miners: Murakse, Matravi, Suyanto, Andre, Maguri, and Tasaripan."