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Leica M9 + Sulfuric Acid = terrifying experience
Old 09-02-2010   #1
leicashot
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Leica M9 + Sulfuric Acid = terrifying experience

EDIT: No, I didn't drop my M9 in sulfuric acid....

Today I visited a place some of you are probably aware of or have seen before seeing it was a place James Nachtwey visited in his documentary. It's name is Mt.Ijen or Kawah Ijen to the Javanese living in East Java, Indonesia.

(Following words taken elsewhere - I'm lazy). Kawah Ijen is an active 8530 feet tall volcano in East Java, Indonesia. Inside the crater of the volcano lies the largest lake of sulfuric acid in the world (650 ft deep). Exquisitely beautiful visually, it is the site of a gruelingly labor-intensive sulfur mining operation. Here 200 miners collect and carry huge loads of pure sulfur as they trek up along a rocky 4 km path out of the crater, amidst clouds of noxious sulfur dioxide gas. They then climb down to the village at the base of the volcano unload, only to repeat the round trip journey again before the day ends. The miners will then sell the sulfur to the government for a small fee, equivalent to about five dollars a day. The government exports the sulfur, which is then used for bleaching sugar, producing fertilizers, black gunpowder, matches, insecticides, and fungicides and for vulcanizing rubber.

Here is an image of the beautiful site you see once you arrive after a 3km hike up hill.

- All with Elmarit 28mm V3



Now there are days I complain about my job, and on most I actually believe that my job is physically demanding. Well after witnessing the miners working on Ijen, my whole attitude has changed. These men number around 400, aged somewhere between 20-60 years of age make the trip up the crater, usually every second day, making up to two of these trips in return for approximately US$7.50 a trip.



Most of these men carry between 65-120 kgs of Sulfur rock on each trip, going through excruciating pain, and making the occasional rest stop along the way.













My experience here was short. While I am a photographer by living, I was there on a quick trip with my family in-law who are from East Java, so I was mindful not to turn this into a working documentary. I anticipated spending a few hours in the crater, but my trip was cut short when I was engulfed by a large amount of smoke that was forced into my direction by strong winds, and surrounded me for a duration of 10 minutes. During this time, I couldn't see even 2 feet in front of me, and was struggling to breath.



If you've seen 'War Photographer' you'll have a slight idea of what I;m talking about....now times that by 10! For the first time in my life I was worried for my life as I was gulping for air underneath my wet handkerchief, protecting my mouth and nose. My eyes began to burn as I occasionally looked up to seek help and a gap between the smoke, but it kept coming for 10 minutes straight.


- This was the storm coming at me, and within 30 seconds I was stuck.

Finally a break in the wind and a worker grabbed me, only to find himself, and I once again caught in another gulf of smoke. Luckily it subsided within a minute and we ran for higher ground. At this point I was so terrified from the trauma and suffering from eye pain and breathing difficulty I decided to call it a day and return to my wife, waiting for me up top. Boy was I happy to see her! Gotta admit, I'm a little embarrassed as many photographers have gone before me to this unique place and survived a day of shooting, but I just couldn't manage to recuperate after that experience, and still suffering from breathing and sight issues as I type this. Maybe I'll head back some other time for a week to make into a small feature if I can get enough courage back ;-)


- a quick portait of my savior while struggling to climb and get my breath back

The day before I took a few minutes to shoot the processing area where the rocks are broken down into material that's easier to transport and here are some of the pictures.









...and that was my day!
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Last edited by leicashot : 09-02-2010 at 04:53.
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Old 09-02-2010   #2
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Wow, excellent reportage, I've gone and looked over the images a number of times. I'd love to experience that!
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Old 09-02-2010   #3
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What an experience! You'have made extremely impressive photos. Great.
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Old 09-02-2010   #4
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Really great photos and write up.
Thanks for posting these.
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Old 09-02-2010   #5
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thanks for taking the time to share, kristian. spell-binding story and beautiful photos.
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Old 09-02-2010   #6
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Fantastic work - great story
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Old 09-02-2010   #7
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How did the camera stand up to the situation?
All sounds horrendous.
Great photos though.

jesse
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Old 09-02-2010   #8
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Thank you for sharing. Great photos!
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Old 09-02-2010   #9
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fantastic. great storytelling with the images.
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Old 09-02-2010   #10
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These images are fantastic.
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Old 09-02-2010   #11
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More pics:











Added a few more pics so had to separate the pics due to reaching my 18 pic per post limit.

The surrounding area and it's inhabitants

- All VC Nokton 35/1.2 wide open


2.8


Caught this woman kicking a cat













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Last edited by leicashot : 09-03-2010 at 08:48.
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Old 09-02-2010   #12
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With Nachtwey images still in my head yours really catch up, nice work!
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Old 09-02-2010   #13
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Great compositions and tones - and showing the severe nature of the place.
Good you came out alright.
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Old 09-02-2010   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jesse1dog View Post
How did the camera stand up to the situation?
All sounds horrendous.
Great photos though.

jesse
The camera held up 100%, quite a bit of sulfur dust but thats it. Nothing enterred the camera and it functioned better than I did

I remember looking down at the camera during my ordeal and barely being able to see it sitting on my chest, and I was thinking to myself "If I die, I hope these workers don't take my camera - I want my best friend or daughter to have it"

Now that I survived, I'm thinking....Noct 0.95, but have no means of aquiring it, but it's definitely on my "to-do-list-b4-I-die"

Maybe just a Hex 60/1.2 if I can ever find one.

Gees I'm pathetic!
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Old 09-02-2010   #15
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Wow, and the batteries didn't run out either.
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Old 09-02-2010   #16
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Superb photos ... they really convey the resolute attitude of the workers and the raw brutality of what they do for a living.

Thanks so much for posting these.
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Old 09-02-2010   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sepiareverb View Post
Wow, and the batteries didn't run out either.
By the time I reached my 'working' area I had only shot 5 images before being englufed in smoke, then it was pretty much over

But had 2 spares with me, just in case
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Old 09-02-2010   #18
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Thanks, I'm glad everyone is enjoying them. Only wish I had more time there to make a more complete series as I didn't yet shoot any faces or shoot anything that evokes much emotion. Oh well, maybe next time.
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Old 09-02-2010   #19
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You did well!!
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Old 09-02-2010   #20
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Fantastic job!!!
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Old 09-02-2010   #21
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Really nice photos and what an experience. But I think the place is a place for colour, isn't it?
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Old 09-02-2010   #22
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Great Photo-essay. Beautiful pictures. Thanks for posting.
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Old 09-02-2010   #23
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These are amazing images. Just excellent photos. Impressive.
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Old 09-02-2010   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tom.w.bn View Post
Really nice photos and what an experience. But I think the place is a place for colour, isn't it?
You're quite right but I avoided showing colours as I feel that in most cases the colours dominate the images as the sulfur is so bright and I didn't want that to be the focus of my images. Also the bright beautiful colours give the wrong impression of the story. They make the images look more tourist-like, again which is something I wanted to avoid considering the background to this story, and how best the images represent my experience.

But considering you asked, here is some colour for reference.





Though there was one image I liked that didn't work in B+W because colour is what makes it work.

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Old 09-02-2010   #25
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Kristian.....You have a great website as well and a very broad range of work and interests. I agree that this project works best in black and white.

Regards,

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Old 09-02-2010   #26
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After looking at the comparison photos in colour I think your decision for black and white is right. The b&w pronounces the reportage aspect about the labour better.


Quote:
Originally Posted by leicashot View Post
You're quite right but I avoided showing colours as I feel that in most cases the colours dominate the images as the sulfur is so bright and I didn't want that to be the focus of my images. Also the bright beautiful colours give the wrong impression of the story. They make the images look more tourist-like, again which is something I wanted to avoid considering the background to this story, and how best the images represent my experience.
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Old 09-02-2010   #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by leicashot View Post
Thanks, I'm glad everyone is enjoying them. Only wish I had more time there to make a more complete series as I didn't yet shoot any faces or shoot anything that evokes much emotion. Oh well, maybe next time.
Well, both the photos and your commentary evoked emotion in me. Thanks for posting.
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Old 09-02-2010   #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ironhorse View Post
Kristian.....You have a great website as well and a very broad range of work and interests. I agree that this project works best in black and white.

Regards,

Joe
Thank you. My website isn't exactly designed for me to get new work. Most people ask what kind of photographer I am, and I never know how to respond. For now, I'm pretty much an entertainment photographer, but documentary is overflowing in my blood and I need these little projects to release it.

Although I have to admit, learning new styles and being flexible has equipped me with skills I never imagined I'd have, and allows me to do more creatively for clients and personally. Thanks for the feedback.
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Old 09-02-2010   #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by leicashot View Post

Though there was one image I liked that didn't work in B+W because colour is what makes it work.

This is exactly what I love in this picture - you see the hard labor, in colors.
The color interaction in this magical place is too vivid to be ignored, despite
the strong narrative of the hard work.

Still, great images and excellent reportage.
Thanks a lot for sharing.
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Old 09-02-2010   #30
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ionteresting photos (and story). i like it.
the color versions are also good. especially the last one where the workers stand out a bit more due to the yellow rocks they carry.
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Old 09-02-2010   #31
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Awesome pics!
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Old 09-02-2010   #32
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Simply fantastic images! At first glance I found the color images distracting, especially after both viewing the B&W's and reading the entire photo essay. This was possibly due to the unexpected sureal colors of the sulfur lake and bright yellow color of the sulfur containing rocks themselves. After a few minutes I mentally rearranged the photo's in my head, dispursing the 3 color images among your B&W's and descriptive words and I think they actually lend strength to the entire story and send a powerful message that no matter how beautiful something might look superficially, something sinister might be just underneith the surface. (or around the corner as you experienced). Thank you for posting and glad to hear you're alright.

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Old 09-02-2010   #33
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Outstanding! Yes, you are correct the b&w enhances the subject.
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Old 09-02-2010   #34
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Excellent really first class images. Great story, and I don't think I'd like to experience that smoke storm! Reminds me a little of my trip to huang shan in An Hui China a few years ago. All of the stuff on the mountain is carried around by workers on similar basket arrangements. I found it hard to carry around my Hasselblad and 5D that day. These workers carry huge loads day in and day out up and down the mountain. Unbelievable.
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Old 09-02-2010   #35
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Quote:
Originally Posted by leicashot View Post
EDIT:

Almost thought it was my image for a sec...

You have some really nice shots there. Its a tough walk up Kawah Ijen and I was lugging a couple of Mamiya 7s and a full size tripod

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Old 09-02-2010   #36
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Wonderful photoes of a truly extraterrestrial environment!
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Old 09-02-2010   #37
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Great images.
The life expectancy must be short for these poor people.
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Old 09-02-2010   #38
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Those are some truly outstanding photographs. They really made me feel like I was there. However cliched a phrase that is, it was really what struck me about your shots.
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Old 09-02-2010   #39
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There are a few minutes about this sulfur mine in the the last part of the James Nachtwey film.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2LM_ciFIVE
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Old 09-02-2010   #40
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I had been wondering about colour and am glad you included the yellow of the sulphur - it reminded me of seeing the rich yellow of sulphur washed up on the beach from a factory near Corynth, Greece in the 60's. Some amazing black and white work though.

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