© Beb C. Reynol

Last month, I met social documentary photographer Beb Reynol.

For the past five years, Reynol has concentrated his documentary work in Central and south Asia, specifically in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Reynol has been an Artist in Residence at the Photographic Center Northwest and is now on its faculty.

In 2005, Reynol trained local photojournalists in Kabul with AINA, the non-governmental organization founded by veteran photojournalist Reza Deghati. AINA aims to rebuild the Afghan’s freedom of expression through journalism.

Whenever I look at imagery from the AfPak region I am consciously looking for work that does not depict military engagement. It was for that reason I was drawn to Reynol’s series of Afghan Coalminers.

Lit only by headlamps, the miners discuss the conditions of the shaft and their approach to the coal seam. Kar-kar, Afghanistan, May 10th, 2005. © Beb C. Reynol

© Beb C. Reynol

Beb’s The Cost of Coal in Afghanistan statement:

During past decades, Afghanistan has only known a succession of conflicts: the Soviet occupation, the Afghan civil war, the rise and fall of the Taliban and today American and allied military engagement. These wars ruined economic development and eroded the vitality of the Afghan population. Coal, abundant in Afghanistan, is an essential fuel used for the production of electricity, making it a basic need.

When Russian forces occupied the country in 1979, they sent their own engineers to run the large-scale production of natural resources. I visited a mine (difficult to access due to its geographical location) 12 kilometres northeast off Pol-e-Khomli. During the Soviet occupation, more than 2000 miners extracted the black gold from the mine. Today, the 150 employed miners barely cover the vast site and the hundreds of formerly excavated galleries.

Often working at a depth of more than 360 metres, the miners extract coal with only shovels and pick-axes in hand, battery powered lamps on top of their heads, and old equipment once imported from Czechoslovakia. Intense heat, total darkness and the risk of explosion from methane gas make coal-mining very difficult and dangerous.

The limited local demand for coal makes the mining far from profitable. Lacking reliable transportation and security infrastructure, the Afghan government is unable to exploit the fossil fuel. While the present war against the Taliban wages on, the country seems to be losing grip on its most wanted resource.

Coal mine, Kar-kar, Afghanistan, May 11th, 2005. © Beb C. Reynol

© Beb C. Reynol

I have also been thinking about Jim Johnson’s recognition of “powerful installment[s] in what should be considered a photographic tradition depicting men who work in extractive industries.”

If you are looking for a one-stop-shop for the visual politics of mining in photography then look no further than Jim’s posts labeled ‘Miner’.