Ijen - Trials and Tribulations

PhotographerPravin Tamang
PrizeHonorable Mention
Entry Description

These images were taken at Ijen Crater, Java, Indonesia where miners work relentlessly for meagre wages in harsh and hostile conditions to extract sulphur from deep inside the cracks of the crater. Everyday these miners decent and ascent perilous 800 mts down the active volcano with basket full of crystalised sulphur that weighs more than 70 kilos . This is a documentation the lives of these workers and the trials and tribulations that comes with it. Life is harsh and extremely challenging in this crater that emits toxic fumes and extreme hot temperatures. These miners have no gas masks or protection.


Thick cloud of sulphur engulf the crater as the morning sun glistens the ridge of the mountain at the background. Brutal but beautiful in its own right. Their bodies are broken and bruised, the life expectancy is around 50. The man on the image shows his old wound that never heals due to continuous bruising by the baskets they carry perched on both the sides of a bamboo pole, his wound would never fully heal and have left a big scar on both his back and shoulders. A steep ascent of around 800 meters, workers in the sulphur mines of Ijen walks this treacherous path everyday more than once carrying loads of sulphur crystals, then this load is transferred to handcarts for further 3 kms decent. The two baskets combined weighs around 80-90 kilos. The workers sell it for $10-15 to the local contractors who sells it to the factories in the production of cosmetics, sugar, fertilizers, matches, rubber etc. The buzz at the crater dies down quickly after the sun rises across the horizon. The miners work during the night till morning to avoid the hot temperatures. They break the sulphur, stack them at night and carry the load in the morning making multiple trips down the crater. The thick while fumes of sulphur blows out of the cracks and the ceramic pipes that somehow speeds up the process of crystallising the sulphur. There is no mask to protect the workers from the toxic fumes, only a piece of cloth that they put inside their mouths while they break the sulphur into slabs. I choked on the fumes a few times, completely out of breath, my eyes full of tears and I was wearing the mask almost all the time. It is absolutely overwhelming.