Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Photo of the Day

From today's New York Times:
"The death toll in a double explosion at a Siberian coal shaft climbed to 43 on Tuesday, Russian news agencies reported, and among the dead were many rescuers killed trying to reach trapped comrades."

The photo the Times ran to illustrate its story was taken by Maxim Shipenkov of the European Pressphoto Agency (below). It shows a group of surviving Russian miners working at a rescue effort at the coal mine in Mezhdurechensk, in western Siberia. The print edition of the Times ran the photo in black and white, while the online edition had it in color.

 The black-and-white version is especially reminiscent of W. Eugene Smith's famous 1950 portrait of three generations of Welsh miners (below). Shipenkov's photo would be good in any case, but the reference to a classic photograph from 50 years ago only makes it stronger. The story becomes different--not a single mine disaster, but the ongoing saga of the men who risk their lives to get the rest of us the energy we otherwise would consume without a thought.

The coverage of the Russian mine disaster, comes, of course, after the deadly explosion of the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia in early April, and the flooding of the Wangjialing mine in northern China shortly before that.

Mining and mine disasters have been among photography's important subjects--in part, I suppose, because the invention of photography and the impact of the industrial revolution coincided. There is probably a deeply psychological component to the photographic fascination with miners, who work underground, away from the light of the sun. Their workplace is an underworld most of us can only think of in the most terrifying of terms.--David Schonauer

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