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Sulphur factory, Inner Mongolia - Mike Goldwater, 2007

20 June 2010

Liang Yan Fa carries baskets of sifted coal to Yang Gui Hai to add to the fire at their make-shift sulphur factory in the middle of the Wuda coal field, Inner Mongolia.

This picture was part of a personal project I am doing on Energy. Most first world manufacturing is now done in China, powered by coal. In 2007 I went to China to cover a story on the coal industry.

It’s almost impossible to do this kind of story through official channels so you have to make opportunities where you can.

The Wuda coal field is vast. Most of the coal is just below the surface and many mines in this area are privately owned, using primitive equipment. The area is heavily polluted, and environmental damage is extreme. The safety levels are terrible: 5,000 miners died in coal accidents in China that year, mostly in private mines. Liang Yan Fa and Yang Gui Hai were a pair of freelancers trying to make a living in this mayhem by extracting sulphur from the coal.

I shot this picture on a Canon 5D. I also took a series of portraits using a Mamiya 7 but the extra cost of film and scanning makes using this camera hard to justify as the quality of the Canon 5D mk2 that I am now using matches 6×7 film.

Since 2005 I have been distributing my picture stories through Getty Images. This story ran over 12 pages in the Economist’s Intelligent Life magazine, and sold in several other countries.

Following the energy theme I am currently putting together a film shot on the Canon 5D mk2 in Mozambique on threats to the forest for a UK NGO.

Mike Goldwater ran the Half Moon Gallery in London from 1974 to 1980. In 1981 he co-founded the photo agency Network Photographers, which by the mid 1990’s represented 24 photographers and had a staff of 20. The digital revolution killed the agency and it closed in 2003. He has won the Tom Hopkinson prize for the UK Magazine Photographer of the Year and two World Press Photo awards.

Photographer since 1981, EPUK member since 2010.

See more work by Mike Goldwater

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