A Photography, a story: "Les porteurs de soufre du Kawah Ijen

The sulfur carriers of Kawah Ijen
"In East Java, Kawah Ijen is among the most beautiful volcanoes in Indonesia. Each day, the carriers take turns to extract and remount 80kg of sulfur on average. The yellow of the sulfur and its emanations, the turquoise of its acidic lake are the daily place of work of the sulfur carriers." Julien Gerard

Interview Julien GERARD

Tell us in what context this photo was taken.

I discovered the Kawah Ijen in 2011. The volcano is located in the east of Java Island in the middle of the coffee plantations. Volcanoes are numerous in this region. Besides the grandiose landscapes, I was immediately attracted by the atmosphere that reigns there. Lunar soils, sulfur vapors and especially porters who do an exhausting and dangerous work: everything gives the impression of being inside a documentary. Attached to this place and to the sulfur carriers, I decided to make a report on the long course and I go there every year to take photographs.

As for this particular photograph, it was the 4th time I was there. The weather was particularly difficult. The Kawah Ijen is an active volcano that spits sulfur vapors all day long. When there is wind, it rushes into the crater and becomes unpredictable. I took this picture while the "cloud" of sulfur was going to wrap the wearer, a few seconds later I was caught myself in toxic fumes. It was not the first time, but this time it lasted a long time and I had difficulty holding my breath. I refuse to use a mask, the porters do not. This would be a lack of respect but also an obstacle to communication with them.

Did you meet these porters?

I have spoken with many porters. Despite their hard work, they remain very available and very kind. I sympathized with one of them and every year I take a picture with the printed image of the previous year, we are 3!

Would you like to pass messages about the human condition through your photographs?

I am attached to people. I would like to open the eyes of the westerners about the human condition in the world but I do not have this claim. I just bring back images, testify and especially share with the people photographed. I hope that people who see my photos or those of my colleagues open their eyes to our way of life which necessarily involves the exploitation of distant peoples, hidden ...

Last question more personal: Since when do you practice the profession of photographer?

I am a professional photographer since 2008 but I have been making pictures since I was 12 in 1992! Professionally, my clients are institutions or industries for making images that I show little. The photo we are talking about in this interview comes from a personal project called "The Salt of Life". I have not yet defined precisely the final goal of this project (book, exhibition ...).

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