Sebastian Sardi began photographing coal mining communities in eastern India in 2008. In viewing his stark, weighty pictures, you can almost feel a layer of dust forming on your skin, smell the smoke and fire as the ground burns. Images and stories of people “digging in the soil with their bare hands” usually makes one think of hard yet meaningful labor, the rewards of working with the land, pride in feeling connected to the resources that keep us alive. But Sardi’s photos make me incredibly sad. The burning of coal to produce energy is a major contributor to global warming, and individuals and communities are harmed as people are forced to relocate as the ground beneath their feet is extracted. Sardi writes about the “fragile balance between nature and mankind,” and photos like these ultimately make me think of nothing but how when we harm our land we are truly an deeply harming ourselves.

Black Diamond will soon be published as a book in collaboration with German publisher Kehrer Verlag.

From the artist’s statement: It is an apocalyptic landscape. There are huge man-made craters everywhere that make up the visible landscape, the ground is burning, and a vast area is oozing with toxic gases, fire and smoke. Amongst all of this, there are people digging in the soil with their bare hands. Coal is mined everywhere in Jharkhand, India, and large parts of it is sorted by hand. The locals call it; “Black Diamond.” Energy produced by the burning of coal is the single biggest contributor to the man-generated carbon dioxide emissions. Coal is a major part in the issue of global warming. Many people have been forced away from these areas when companies and authorities recognized the richness that hides in the ground. Underground fires force people to relocate. The mining companies claim they are unable to put out the fires, while the locals blame the companies for letting the fires burn so the coal can be reached and excavated from underneath their villages. There is a fragile balance between nature and mankind. A sense of discomfort is felt in the slow but seemingly unavoidable struggle towards the collapse of nature. The human inability to break patterns is painstakingly visible in these photographs, as we knowingly keep on extracting the ground beneath our own feet. “Black Diamond” is a close (self-)portrait of the people who work with extracting coal from the ground, as well as an exploration of our dualistic human nature and how one self relates to the outside world while being a part of it.

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