The Dangerous Labor of Sulfur Miners in Indonesia
Kawah Ijen is a volcano rich with sulfur that lies in East Java, Indonesia. Sulfur miners hike up to the summit of the volcano, at 8,660 ft. high, to enter the mine in the crater that is brimming with a deep lake of molten sulfuric acid that is 650 ft. deep. French photographer Olivier Grunewald joined some of these miners on their journey to catch a firsthand glimpse of the laborious work put into harvesting the yellow mineral.
While it may seem wild to think that Grunewald willingly put himself in this hazardous atmosphere and through the putrid stench of sulfur in sweltering heat to capture a few pictures, the images he has surfaced with are absolutely astounding and really put the arduous task at hand into perspective. The photojournalist documents the dangers that these sulfur miners in Indonesia face daily for a mere $13 USD. Guided by torchlight, they enter the mines that can reach boiling temperatures, just enough to see sulfur in its red, molten state.
Once the sulfur cools and turns to its more commonly recognized yellow hue, the miners hack away at the walls of the crater and collect the hardened sulfur. Each miner packs as much as he can carry, loading each of his baskets that is often equipped to carry 100-200 lbs. Even more unbelievable is the lack of gas masks or protective gear on most of these miners who come so close in contact with dangerous, acidic elements.
The remarkable photos in this series known as Kawah Ijen by Night reveal so much about the labor-intensive duties of these miners while simultaneously documenting the natural landscape of the volcano and its activity. The opposing forces and colors of red and blue flames that are seen throughout the series also offer an interesting visual. The blue flames that naturally light the molten sulfuric acid clashing with the red flames of the miners’ torches amidst the foggy, acidic gas that fills the night air makes for some truly powerful imagery.