South Africa (2003)
The photographs in this series were commissioned by the University of Cape Town to form a permanent exhibition at the then newly constructed Chemical Engineering Building. The project was initially put out to tender and I was lucky enough to be approached to put forward a proposal. I had previously spent a lot of time down mines as part of the corporate commissions that I received from mining houses, and I had become familiar with the conditions that miners find themselves working in on a daily basis.
Sometimes I think that I was motivated to go down mines to test the extent of my claustrophobia. I was always relieved when I reached the surface after a trip underground and I could shrug off the burden of having three kilometers of rock above me. When I visit mines, I always get a strong sense of being in a foreign world populated by a different breed of people. Their working environments are otherworldly and often dangerous and these elements force people together and they develop a bond that links them in their common purpose and experience. I had always wanted to find a way of photographing people in these strange working environments.
For this series I chose to photograph them individually or in groups, in a very formal manner and, where possible, with available light. I have always appreciated the old photographs of miners - the subjects generally assumed very serious looks and posed in a formal manner, often seemingly unaware of how strange their surrounding work environments would seem to others.
A fellow photographer and friend, Andrew Meintjies, worked with me in the complex job of cleaning up all the strange casts that one gets from the various light sources underground. We spent many long days arguing about colours and fiddling with Photoshop in his downtown printing studio. Tragically, he was killed a few months after this body of work was completed, during a robbery in which his cellular phone was stolen.