Searching for ‘black diamonds’ in the treacherous conditions of India’s ‘capital of coal’

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In 2008, Swedish photographer Sebastian Sardi read an article about how mining-related deaths and injuries are often covered up by the various authorities who oversee such operations. Sardi was 25 at the time and had turned to photography three years earlier. He had yet to pursue formal training as a photographer, but his interest was piqued, and he began photographing mines. Eventually, Sardi traveled to northern India’s Jharkhand state to photograph people working in Dhanbad, which many have dubbed the “capital of coal.” The resulting photos formed Sardi’s project “Black Diamond.”

When Sardi arrived in Dhanbad, he discovered people whose lives revolve around extracting coal. He photographed the men, women and even children living and working in the toughest of conditions. Sardi, in his upcoming book, describes the scene he came upon:

"It is an apocalyptic landscape. There are huge man-made craters everywhere that make up the visible landscape, the ground is burning, and a vast area is oozing with toxic gases, fire and smoke. Amongst all of this, there are people digging in the soil with their bare hands. Coal is mined everywhere in Jharkhand, India, and large parts of it are sorted by hand. The locals call it: “Black Diamond.” Energy produced by the burning of coal is the single biggest contributor to man-generated carbon dioxide emissions. Coal is a major part in the issue of global warming. Many people have been forced away from these areas when companies and authorities recognized the richness that hides in the ground. Underground fires force people to relocate. The mining companies claim they are unable to put out the fires, while the locals blame the companies for letting the fires burn so the coal can be reached and excavated from underneath their villages."

Sardi was born in Stockholm. At 23, he moved to Denmark to pursue photographic studies at the Fatamorgana school of art, where he received a bachelor’s degree in art history and visual studies. Sardi works and lives in Malmo, Sweden, and Copenhagen.

Sardi’s work is being made into a book, “Black Diamond,” and will be available to buy here.

all photos by Sebastian Sardi

By Kenneth Dickerman and Sebastian Sardi November 14, 2018
In Sight is The Washington Post's photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives.

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