I was traveling across the Indonesian island of Java, keeping my eyes open for potential stories. When I found out about the Ijen Crater and its “Blue Fire” – only visible at night – I knew I had to go.
I made my way to the volcano, starting the ascent at 1am.
I was hiking a trail in the pitch dark when I met Supeno, a sulfur miner. He was heading to work. Lead by curiosity, and perhaps compassion and solidarity, I stayed with him for his entire shift at the mine. What happened next was amazing: he invited me to stay at his home. He wanted me to meet his family. I spent four days in his house, in a little village on the slopes of the volcano. And every night I went with him to the crater.
When I first saw the crater, I thought I was in one of Dante’s Circles of Hell – it seemed a vision out of the Inferno. The miners carry more than their body weight on their shoulders, climbing the steep slope of the crater. I tried to lift one of their wicker baskets, and I could barely take a step.
Toxic fumes only increase their torture; they breathe through their mouths, biting wet rags. They do this every day of their lives, for a ridiculously small of money.
I was wearing a gas mask and breathing heavily. My lungs were burning, and my eyes, too, yet I was filled with energy – I had to tell this story.
I couldn’t help but think that, if I was born here, their burden would be mine to carry, every day of my life.
The miners were, to me, silent heroes, and I wanted to give them a voice by creating powerful images to celebrate them.
This photo essay was a finalist in the 2018 World Nomads Travel Photography Scholarship.
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Francesco Soave is a travel/documentary photographer from Verona, Italy. Through his pictures, he aims to give a voice to the forgotten and the invisible of the globalized world.
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