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Photojournalist and Matador contributor Andrés Vanegas Canosa reports from an independent trip to the Ijen volcano sulfur mine in East Java, Indonesia.

I HAD HEARD about the sulfur miners of Ijen before I arrived in Banyuwangi, a town on the eastern edge of the island of Java. Not many tourists visit this town, and finding information in English was tough. Some people told me access to the mountain was closed. Others knew nothing about what went on there, even though the volcano rose right behind their homes. Buses did not run there, and taxis were expensive.

So the next morning, I set out hitchhiking. A girl on a motorbike left me at an intersection close to the volcano: “Wait here, a truck will come with all the miners,” she said. After 15 minutes, the vehicle arrived. I boarded the truck with the miners, and we traversed the east face of the volcano.

My expectation was that the place would not be touristy at all. I was wrong. After we arrived at the trailhead, tourists seemed to be everywhere. They had come up the west face, paying a significant amount of money for the opportunity.

Here is some of what I saw.

Human RightsPhoto Essay


 

About The Author

Andrés Vanegas Canosa

Andrés Vanegas Canosa, or Andy VC, is a lawyer who has worked for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime headquarters in Vienna and the Microfinance Foundation BBVA in Madrid. He is also a freelance photographer, focusing on the human consequences of war and crisis in developing countries. See more on his website, Andy VC.

  • Mohammed Taha Syed

    Mr. Canosa, these photos are incredible! As an American high school student I applaud you for your efforts, and only hope to follow in footsteps as large as yours.

    • Andy VC

      Thanks very much for your words, Mohammed.

  • Cengiz Yar Jr. Photography

    Impressive work sir.

  • Carlo Alcos

    Thank you for sharing this story. It’s shocking, yet it’s not. Do you know what the destination is for the sulphur? What it’s used for?

    • Andy VC

      It is used in the vulcanization of rubber. Sulfur has applications as a fungicide, fumigant, and in the making of fertilizers. It is used to make sulfuric acid. Sulfur is used in the making of several types of paper and as a bleaching agent. Elemental sulfur is used as an electrical insulator. The organic compounds of sulfur have many uses. Sulfur is an element that is essential for life.

  • David Long

    Excellent.

  • Erik Fantasia

    A recent documentary film profiles the Ijen Crater and the miners that work there: Where Heaven Meets Hell (http://whereheavenmeetshell.com/).

    • Andy VC

      Erik thanks for sharing this project. It looks amazing!

    • Susanne Cheekyface

      Thanks for sharing Erik

  • Jefferson L. Morriss

    Thanks for doing this essay.

  • Susanne Cheekyface

    Thanks so much for this Andres….I found your photographs extraordinary, and your story quite informative. My husband is Indonesian and tells me lots of things that go on there. The world knows just how corrupt Indonesia really is but they don’t hide it. They are very good at advertising their own corruption. Your photos are wonderful and I’m so glad you ventured into that environment to bring out these photos to share with the world….especially us Matadorians.

    • Andy VC

      Thanks, Susanne.

  • Lourika Reinders

    No.16 is an AMAZING photograph! It’s really sad to see what these workers are going through! Thank you for the story! If I ever do visit this mine, I’ll remember to carry some extra bottles of water :)

  • Alberto Javier ELias Fernandez

    Que gran galeria Andres! Muchas felicidades! Gracias por dar a conocer esta practica inhumana, da tristeza ver el trato tan horrible que puede existir en partes del mundo! Que esta galeria promueva justicia!

    • Andy VC

      Muchas gracias, Alberto. Esperemos que, aunque sea, sea un punto de partida para la reflexión.

  • Wild Imagination Photography

    Really beautiful and poignant images. 8 and 16 are incredible. In 16, I love the way the miner is hunched against the load. The dark background juxtaposed with yellow sulfur just sets it off. Very, very well done.

  • Rani Lukitasari

    Hi Mr. Canosa. I’d like to congratulate and thank you for bringing this amazing work to us! I myself am an Indonesian and have visited Kawah Ijen for several times. This eye opening photo essay really helps the world to know that yes, in some part of the world, people are still struggling hard for life and living. This encourages us, the more fortunate ones, to be grateful of what we’ve already had. As far as I know, due to the tiring work load, they don’t work everyday in that mining. They also cultivate some crops during the break days. Last but not least, keep up the brilliant work! :)

  • theeagertraveller

    What a terrific photo essay! Every photo moved me and I still can’t believe the entry is over. You are an inspiration and I would like to commend you for your bravery and exceptional talent.

  • Summer Brandi

    Do you happen to know where the sulfur is sold to?

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