brent foster – hell hole

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Brent Foster

Hell Hole: Living On Jharia’s Fiery Mines

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I consider it hell on earth, literally. The smell, the smoke, the heat, the conditions. No human should have to live here, work here, grow up here, exist here, yet thousands do.

The Jharia coal mines have been on fire in Jharkhand, India for almost 100 years. It’s one of the largest coal mines in Asia. As the fires spread, many people live with the ground beneath them burning every day. Houses crack, crumble, and subside…so do people. Locals tell stories about villagers sleeping and the earth beneath them giving way, their bodies never to be found in the inferno. Just a few months ago a 15 year-old girl disappeared in the fires while taking her morning bathroom break.

Villagers survive by picking illegal coal from the mines to sell at local markets for about a dollar a basket. They collect the coal, and burn it once in order to improve its quality, breathing in the poisonous smoke containing carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and fine coal dust, among other things. None of the illegal miners wear protection.

This is a complex problem as a plan has been put through with hopes that the residents will move to a new re-homing area.

Locals are hesitant as the plan offers a small room for what is commonly a huge family. Most feel that they are asked to move because the price of the coal below them is worth more than their existence.


Related links

Brent Foster

/Burning Below Coal Fires In Jharia India


60 Responses to “brent foster – hell hole”

  • Finie la maison de la chance…

    la maison de l’ enfer, alors? :-)

  • good choice..
    is lots to that story…

  • Brent, I am sorry, there is nothing wrong in your essay, and I will look at it again, because I may be wrong after all and need a fresher look, but so many of such essays are staring to look the same, photographically, to me. Compo choices and subject position in the frame,

    Maybe working on the light thru the use of color would bring it out.

    It really seems that so many of these subject are done under a collective authorship, a style everyone takes as his/her own.

    This could be the case of the screen not showing all that went in your monchrome treatment. I feel bad saying all this (I hope someone can prove I know shit about it all, frankly), and it’s not just you, it’s a whole way of shooting, efficient I admit, repeated over and over again.

  • I agree with Herve. This looks like a lot of other photos of these same kinds of places. Perhaps shooting this in color might have made it stand out more.

  • Stunning photos, as good as Salgado’s of the same subject. Brent’s pictures show the extraordinary conditions under which these folks labor, but I find myself wanting more of a connection to the people and less survey of the phenomenon. I know about the caste-based politics and economics of Bihar and that its coal is some of the dirtiest in the world only because I am interested in India — but I wish these photos would offer more of a window into those realities. Who are these workers? Why do they do what they do?

    Brent has set the scene masterfully, but I want more narrative in the photography.

  • Brent’s photos are a multimedia piece on the Globe and Mail website:

    And part of an article:

    So the photos there are backed by all the context I was looking for — I just don’t think the photos alone tell much story, since they all his the same note.

  • very strong body of work, congrats!

  • Unfortunately I have to agree with Jim and Herve. Sorry.
    Yes, the photographs are well taken, probably much better than I ever would. Some images reminded me of Nachtwey’s work. The story is an important and interesting story – yes, yes, BUT I would have liked to see the story photographed in a different way. I cannot even say how. Just in a new way!
    I admit, this is ultra difficult. This is one of the big challenges that we face as photographers
    – sorry – no smart answer, no quick fix.
    And as Preston said: more narrative please!
    Perhaps I am just tired of these very well composed images that look so nice, but they tell me about something really bad, something horrible. I’m not saying to take horrible pictures, but this almost over esthethic is a bit too much.
    Brent, this is nothing against you personal or your work in particular. Without doubt you are a fine photographer and you don’t need the beaten track. You are able to walk on the uncharted territory!
    Maybe my critical comment is a little stepping stone that might ignite a new way of thinking.
    My message is very simple: Surprise me! Try something new!

  • Come on guys! I think there is some real authorship in this work. Good on you Brett. A strong start to your chosen subject. Isn’t the EPF about an unfinished project? Congrats! I, for one, am for a less literal narrative approach, once the photographer is inside a particular subject or place. I can imagine that you would produce some wonderful work if you receive the grant!


  • My pet hate are critics who evaluate work on what it ought to have been, rather than what it is.

    No offence.

  • It’s artistically done photos of a burning garbage dump. But so are Nacthwey’s and Salgado’s. How many burning garbage dump essays do we need that look pretty much alike? I would like to see this in color. It just comes out gray in B&W.

  • beautiful, rich, powerful, heart-breaking….a well-told beginning to a story that I now hunger to see more of. The photographs are strong, meticulous and observant. the final photograph is drop-dead jaw-opener…one for the ages. I think Brent’s technique is impeccable, his eye observant, and his story (for me) new. I’ve seen a billion photographs on India (and have bookshelves of books) but i dont remember seeing this particular story.

    Call me naive, but every time i look at work, i react to it’s imagery and narrative as if I were a beginning photographer and I always feel compelled by people’s commitment to vision and narrative, in whatever fashion they scribe. As a photographer, I am committed to that unique personal version that seems to mandate the way we see, carve up and reconcile ourselves with the world around. As a viewer and lover of photogrpahy, I am pitched by the commitment to story and intent. Maybe that is why i have such an eclectic taste and still love traditional documentary work, even while my own practice is motivated and defined by something else.

    I believe that’s the importance of the expansive view. Brent has found a story that is not only compelling but strongly, tenderly, humanely and observantly told. That is is a short one and one that I am sure will be fleshed out is just more room for applause: that we encourage him and recognize the power in his talent and harness that to this story. I too want, as Preston pointed out, to know/see more about who these workers are, from where do they come, their life outside the mines…but that’s a long term commitment….

    and it is important (sean, that’s my biggest beef too with critics or when discussing work) that we evaluate and react to work as it folds in front of us…not on what it could of/should of/might have been, but what it is…and from there begin a discussion…

    class work brent!. looking forward to seeing more…

    all the best

  • It is nothing bad about having an aesthetic style, no, no, no. it is a gift, a talent, well composed images are fantastic regardless of the subject. Always. But, you have a very strong “subjective” title and text (I use ” ” because I doubt anyone would protest) but, I don´t see HELL in these pictures. In the people, in their faces etc. I want to see it, not read it. Show don´t tell as they keep telling you in school of journalism…
    But as others already said, I just say this because I think you deserve an honest feedback on a high level, since it seems like your are on this level as a photographer already.

  • Come on people; Salgado is Salgado, Nachtwey is Nachtwey and Brent is Brent. Brent didn’t make any correlations between his work and theirs in his foreword essay, so why do people immediately jump the gun and make bold comparisons. This is isn’t how criticism should be based. Of course his work is going to be different.

    I have seen that done several times here, that people base their criticism on what should have been or how X would have photographed the scene.I sense a real authorship here. His framing was tight, he had an intuitive sense of light, the timing was spot on and I felt that he displayed empathy for his subjects. I found the positioning of the subjects in the frame was provoking and they were photographed in a spontaneous manner. Most importantly after viewing the essay, I felt that it would be the last place that I would want to live. Certainly a Hell Hole as the title suggested.

    Jim you suggested that it should have been done in color because it was too gray. My monitor is showing some deep blacks and brilliant whites. Please respect the authors choice of medium. Critique what is before you. I remember you had the same worries with your monitor last week with the photo of the girl at the demonstration. Get your monitor calibrated as such criticism is not healthy. Because if you don’t get that sorted out, you will continue to block up the dialogue yet again and again.


  • My monitor is calibrated.

    Critique what is before you? O.K. I don’t like it. It’s derivative. It’s not the quality of the photography, it’s that it’s another garbage dump, another fire.

    O.K. I critiqued what was before me.

  • I’m in agreement with Andrea in terms of what I read and what I saw not being on the same level.
    When I read the text I felt grittiness, pain, loss, hell, dog-eat-dog… but I felt that images, though nicely executed, did not fully support the words.
    As some have said, maybe the use of colour would have brought these adjectives out to play a bit more?

  • The subjects people choose to record (with whatever medium) are sometimes done for personal reasons, and sometimes done for professional reasons. Sometimes it is a mix of both. Sometimes a professional project becomes personal, and sometimes a personal project becomes ‘professional’. Which ever way the photographer comes about his/her subject, the work is going to have something special if there is a deep personal interest or resonance with what he/she is photographing. I feel this resonance with Brent’s work.

    I find it offensive that anyone (especially readers of Burn) should suggest that Brent work in colour! He works in black and white (on this project), and he works well in black and white! Perhaps some photographers have traveled and photographed in the same place before, but Brent hasn’t. This is his subject you are looking at, and this is his description and response. These are his photographs. Do those of you who suggest this “subject” has been done also suggest that no one photograph on the streets of New York any more, because of Winogrand, Meyerowitz, Leiter, Arbus, Levitt et. al? Or not to get in a car and travel across the states because of Frank? Not to go to Iraq because of Ashley Gilbertson or any of the hundreds of other photographers working there? Not to photograph?

    Please enlighten me with a thoughtful response.


  • Why did you backtrack again? You previously implied in your comments that the quality of the photograph was one of the problems: ‘it just comes out gray in B@W’. Of course this is a direct reference to the finished quality of the photograph. The two are inherently related.

    Now the main problem you have highlighted is another generic garbage dump, another fire. Of course if these things are so common in the world in the third world, it stands to reason that there will be different photographers with different ideals/techniques who decide to bring them to the attention of the west. This is a good thing. What makes me wonder is how you managed to endure photographing what would have been recurring themes for your 40 years in the town newspaper? If photographing recurring mundane things didn’t bother you then (lets face it 40 years is a lot of time for self-exploration of themes and motives), what is the problem now if it is a recurring theme that another photographer has chosen to explore? It is an important situation that the photographer has brought to attention. Jim, I have to chosen to critique your words on an individual level, because that is how you approach your critiques of the photographers here on Burn. It is impossible not to bring past experiences and translate them into words here, but don’t let those past experiences prejudice your critiques.

  • The news we do on a local level is hyper local. And very personal to the people in the communities we cover. We know the street where the fire happened and the folks who lost the home. We know the folks on the float in the annual parade. We know the folks in the obits, or at least their families. Another car wreck? Hey, I saw that on the way home from work. Regardless of how many times we’ve covered the same event, the people and faces and personalities change.

    Images like this one, though, are icons. Yep, there’s another photo of a burning garbage dump. There’s more photos of starving people in Africa. There’s another photo of genocide in some third world country.

    If you want to show this stuff to the world, show it in all its raw horror, not artistically framed and esthetically pleasing! Show me stark photos of genocide, not the body of a child looking as poised as a ballet dancer. Show me a child with a bloated belly in its raw reality, not cloaked in swirling rings of smoke.

    Ah, what’s the point. Tilting at windmills again.

  • I’m out of this post. Good work Brent, and congratulations again!

  • I can see your point Jim, but you are still projecting your own experiences onto the photographer whose essay is being reviewed. Images like this maybe icons to you, but not everyone comes from your long photographic background.

    So, it is the artist’s poetic license to choose the framing, how the subject is portrayed, medium etc If every photographer who goes to these places illustrated the stark reality of the place in the way you had in mind, then that over time that would also look the same. Aesthetics and artisitic choices are what define authorship, that is the whole point. If the viewer was always only confronted with genocide, then they would become desensitized to the project or theme in general. Most people would find that approach more disturbing. The photographer’s artistic decisions are what draws the viewer into the essay and holds their attention.

    This windmill just ran out of puff.


  • Sorry Johan, to understand your dilemma with Jim you need to go back much further than Cervantes, you need to go all the way back to the scriptures, specifically: Matthew 7:6

  • Matthew 7:6 (New International Version)

    6″Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.¨

    i was grateful for jims input in the last thread.. it helped me sooner reach a point of conclusion on the piece in my own mind.. which jim does, one way or another, many times.

    okay – i think this is a strong beginning to the project and hope it can carry on in some form or another, with or without the epf, and find a home in hard-copy form.

    i can see where the discussion is heading and where it has come from. there is no question that the photographic greats can heavily influence both the aesthetic and the subject of photographers.. 40 years after the beatles comes blur and oasis.. and so it goes..

    contemporary artistic practice is a result of all artistic practice which has gone before.. we´re always harping on about how everything has been done, and so it has.. and so if the beginning of someones vision is influenced by an established contemporary – is that not the way it has to be?

    to build on a past you have to begin at that pasts high-point.. it is to brents credit that he has the ability and passion to be ABLE to start at that high point.. and so early in a project.. give it 20 years.. 30 years, which the people he´s being compared to have had, and see where it takes him.

    the subject is familiar and the aesthetic also – but what i high start.. jeezz.. comparisons with nachtwey and salgardo.. why on earth is that a bad thing while working on an incomplete project?

    okay – good luck brent.. i guess you can take the comparisons negatively or positively as is your want..
    as a crit i would say get in there.. sleep eat and wake with the people if you can.. i would think the more personal contact you are able to gain the more unique the perspective will be.. i think you have the classic shots which will staple the project as relevant – so maybe see how deeply you can go if you are able.. and show us more than we have been shown of ´the rubbish tip´.

    there is such a small selection of photos here – it could well be that in an alternative edit you already have something much more unique than you know – over time edits change, of course, and so long as you are shooting everything you can and giving it as much time as you can you will have plenty of ingredients to make a nourishing and wholesome book.

    as an entry to the epf, (if this is one of the finalists – could we have them marked ´finalist´?), i think this selection is a knockout.. the perfect teaser in the art of weening money out of funding bodies to carry on.


  • Thanks for that tip Joe, I’m onto it now. My understanding of him was limited to the introduction of the 35mm camera, back there in the 1920’s. I reacted because I’ve seen/proven on several occassions that he brews negativity just for the sake of it. It is natural for people’s opinions to change, but when he does it systematically then it arouses suspicion.

    For instance, to bring up the quality of the photograph, then reverse your opinion seconds later is detrimental to the debate. Unfortunately most of all the photographer’s reputation is unwittingly on the line due to this. But at the same time, he is currently ‘the man’ on Burn, due to the introduction of his donation idea, so my words will probably fall foul.

    Thanks again for your insight Joe,

  • This is certainly an interesting job, but I agree with Andrea,
    In my humble opinion, the photos do not quite the weight of life in the mines.
    They are beautiful, but I find the relationship between the photographer and the subject a bit remote.
    I would have liked more faces, more intimacy with the people and their situation.
    Keep working, in order to go deep.

    All my Best

  • I enjoy the essay for the subtle nuances within the images, those little quirky juxtapositions……. for those that can only cope with the brash, the bold and need “their way of seeing” may need to go elsewhere

  • In only 13 images, Brent, you have taken us deep into the hell hole you describe in your introductory text. Your photos are magnificent as art and chilling as depictions of the lives of these individuals and families. Each time I looked at your essay, I kept hoping you were wearing a face mask when you did this work, but doubted you were because of how it would have made your subjects feel. I haven’t read the other comments but can somehow hear Jim Powers’ voice in my ear saying yet again, “So what good does it do to show yet another hell hole here on Burn?” In answer I quote Jim Nachtwey as I have before: “I have been a witness, and these pictures are my testimony. The events I have recorded should not be forgotten and must not be repeated.”


  • these images
    seem complicated..
    lots of depth
    would love to see
    fiber prints…
    will this essay be made into a multi media piece?
    if so,
    what are your ideas?
    would like to see what you’d do with this….

  • Hi Wendy

    We have made a complete multimedia site about this story – Brent and I have worked on it for the past month.

    It’s online on this link:


    Poul Madsen, photojournalist and multimedia producer.

  • The trailer is stunning…
    the music was perfect,
    liked the cut to the stills…
    really beautiful….
    why not present this to Burn??
    much stronger than only your stills….
    LOVED IT!!!!

  • paul – bombayfc is very strong.. congratulations.. going to spend a long while wandering through it now..

    thanks for sharing.

  • I like this essay because of it’s shift in emphasis from previous efforts to depict exactly what goes on in these areas. while salgado’s gold/coal/sulphur mine depictions were in the context of ‘work’, this essay is about where someone lives. that their home doubles as their workplace does not take away from the fact that this is not an essay so much about working conditions, as it is an essay abotu living conditions (to the extent that these two distinctions can be made). i was particularly struck in the intro by the line, ‘As the fires spread, many people live with the ground beneath them burning every day.’ Foster described it as a hell hole, I imagine it more along the lines of living on the very edge of the world, where the ground beneath you could evaporate in a moment’s notice.

    that being said, my only suggestion would be that, considering that i don’t view this essay so much an essay about the coal mine so much as an essay about the community surrounding the coal mine, i would like to see a narrative demonstrating how the coal mine might affect community life. is there a certain closeness between people considering that they are ‘in the struggle together’, or is it more anonymous, if the nature of the workforce is migrant, and people can’t wait to return to their homes/family after a couple months? what is religious life like? i’d be real interested to see a wedding in this community…?

    i’ve spent some time in india (didn’t venture near bihar), but one thing i was particularly struck by was how prior to traveling that country, i had a uniform vision of india (varanasi, the golden temple and madurai, to sum up in a sense). i walked away having learned that each area has a completely unique approach to their livelihoods, culture and sense of community. that being said, how would you place what is in this essay in a more india-specific dialogue, rather than within a context of indonesia/brazil/india (ie, only what is depicted)?

    i hope i haven’t fallen into the trap of my critique/suggestions turning into ‘wishing the project was something else than it really is’, because that isn’t my intention at all. instead, since the group of finalists is to be judged as much by potential as it is by the demonstrated results, i am only trying to say that this project is full of potential, and i think we all need to give an old hat-tip in your direction. cheers

    – sean

  • My pet hate are critics who evaluate work on what it ought to have been, rather than what it is.

    Are you sure it’s not about people not thinking like you? What if someone said s/he could see this as a movie, a multi-media installment….. See what I mean?

    I haven’t read the other comments but can somehow hear Jim Powers’ voice in my ear saying yet again, “So what good does it do to show yet another hell hole here on Burn?”

    Patricia!!!! Of course, you read the comments. You are so childish in a cute way. Just wonderful… :-)

    No to take away from Brent (unlike JIm, I de facto have no problem seeing more essays on the same subjects), but more than a few dump holes and ghettos around the world have become prey to destination tourism, organized or not. Some wear a mask, some don’t. It does create problems of dissemination where bearing testimony a million times does tend to create a cottage industry rather than a testimony.

    The problematic here, is that people can too often get “another burning hole testimony” fatigue. Before it was “we had no idea”, now it’s “yes, we know…”.

    Though I can tell anyone that what Brent has photographied is not on the tourist trail, it still does run that risk, to be shown against the flood of sentimental, opportunistic tourist pictures, posing as Nachtwey for a minute.

    One of the reasons Nachtwey does bear testimony is not his pictures, but his relentlessness to testify, the fact he has been at it for over 30 years.

  • The pictures don’t make the place look like a hell hole to me.

  • andrew harry – you´re looking at a lifetime of cheap rent then.. :ø)


    ¨relentlessness to testify, the fact he has been at it for over 30 years.¨

    spot on.. and from looking at bombayfc, brent et al are planning for the long game.. respec´


  • Let’s talk Black & White. It has been the currency of photojournalism and documentary work for decades. Approaching a subject in B&W is a different beast, especially with today’s technology. Now, all of what I am about to say is on the premise that Brent shoots digital raw files, as do many. The texture and telling power of B&W was in the past an acquired skill. Today it is a conversion.

    This means that utilizing B&W becomes a far less deliberate decision — you can always change your mind. Are the young guns really taught about seeing in B&W? I don’t know. But look at the Carlan Tapp essay. B&W is used with such skill and affect.

    I say this with a bit of recent experience. I am reacquainting myself with B&W film shooting and a few rolls into it I remembered to think B&W. With a roll of Tri-X (T-Max, et. al.) you’ve committed yourself, it can never be anything other than B&W.

    Brent I think you have taken on a strong subject, regardless of how it turns out, if you could learn to think B&W, you might react in a different way to some of your future situations. It might have looked pretty sexy in color, but some of your images have, as Herve puts it, a “monochrome” treatment.


    Paul O’Mara

  • wow. the full multimedia piece on the BFC website is really strong. I don’t think I’ve seen video presented in black and white in a mixed media piece like this before.
    It made me think a bit of Ed Kashi’s Curse of the Black Gold
    a very effective way of presenting a story
    I disagree with anyone who says we see enough of these kinds of issues…I absolutely think photographers should be covering stories like these and helping to create awareness. Thank you for sharing

  • I was drawn in by Brent’s framing choices and his use of black and white. I think he made compelling photographs that could stand on their own even outside this story. Therefore, the viewer, who may or may not be interested in the subject matter, is pulled in. So well done IMO.

    and whoa, this is a tough crowd.

  • Brent, Poul

    Yes, it definitely all comes so potently within the larger, more in-depth contest of the multi-media trailer. I got to the story completely again, went beyond the photos and the photographer (which you have to do, even in Nachtwey’s case. We must see the people, not the image), which our M.O. on Burn too easily keep us with. Treatment of information and photography, how it is framed, presented, is paramount.

    A big question as to why the link to the trailer was not put with the essay. Yes, we must really think thru the editing patterns on BURN, no doubt about it.

    Both of you went beyond, way beyond what the format here allows, it would be our loss not to realize that, and walk a bit inside the frame with you.

    Jim, Telling us you need to see bloated stomachs and blood…. Not good, Jim, not good.


  • The link again:

    (click on story or trailer, or both, they’re a bit edited differently)

  • Herve:

    you said “big question as to why the link to the trailer was not put with the essay. Yes, we must really think thru the editing patterns on BURN, no doubt about it”….

    Burn is a doorway….an entrance…Burn is a magazine intended to showcase the variety of work being done by photographers. Burn publishes what work is submitted. Brent presented the essay AS HE WANTED, period, full stop. On top of essays, Burn provides links to the photographers webpages, archives or any other link they wish to provide. The Multimedia piece is available for ALL TO SEE if THEY LOOK AT BRENT’S WEBPAGE….

    It is NOT Burn’s responsibility to do all the work for readers…..BURN WOULD PUBLISH THE MULTIMEDIA PIECE (as Burn has done in the past, as Burn will do in the future) if that was what was desired….

    moreover, why cant the readership, in this case YOU, do the work too…as soon as i looked at the essay, wrote my comment, I went to both the archive and the webpage and looked at all….

    I find this continual ‘criticism’ of what gets shown here as not only lazy but ridiculous. David GIVES total freedom to the photographer, within the technical constraints…

    soon you’ll see a MM piece that will also push boundaries….

    there is NO BURN MO….

    i wish you would understand that…

    it’s funny, the criticism of the Brent piece (by many above) may have been answered had more people taken the time to do their own work…look at the web page…which would eventually lead to Flying Bombay Club too….

    the decision NOT to put a link was the photographers and NOT david or antons…

    good grief…

  • Sacre Bob!!!!

    very simply: no. No on all counts.

    The M.O. was very simply about us, who get to see the entry as readers, then commenters. Really, here, if you read me clearly, it was obvious it was said of no one in particular.

    Yes, it’s quite healthy and fine to question how we get about, doing things on BURN. I understand perfectly that until now, the photographer made all the choices. So I said maybe we can be more involved (Didn’t you yourself tell us you were in constant conversation over the course of a full day (or more?) with Marc Davidson? I mean, here it is, if that is not involvement?).

    And finally yes, actually no: people, that’s me too, do not always think of digging beyond the entry itself. The use of the internet is just too informal to expect people to be on, where they should be on. I did open Brent’s website, never saw the link to the trailer, and I actually remember thinking MumbayFC meant Football club! So, a little propping and coaxing can’t hurt.

    And again, I am ready to help, said so before.

  • Herve, your statement that ‘we must really think through the editing patterns on Burn’. Well, with regards to whether a link with a trailer is put up with the essay – well isn’t that the photographer’s artistic choice? These ruminations about what the editors should have been included in the essay, ultimately just lead to speculation. I think these sort of questions should be directed at the photographer, not the editors.

    I don’t see how a small operation like Burn can be implied to be at blame for everything that the photographer did or didn’t do. Judging by DAH statement in the EPF column, it is obvious that he is a very busy man and perhaphs deosn’t have the time to second guess the photographer’s artistic choices; or lack of them. Please remember that Burn is a small organisation that doesn’t have the manpower of a large publishing company. But, that is the inherent beauty of Burn, a small but inspirational publisher.


  • Can’t say I was blown away by these but may be partially due to the fact that I can’t see them very well. I too am on a very good calibrated monitor and they all looked very gray and dim. Shadows need opening up. They also seemed very distant from the subjects too – wish there was a bit more intimacy and “back story.” Where do they live, shop, play, etc?

    Still a great subject though and takes balls to shoot in places like this no matter what. I’ve driven through coal towns in the North of Vietnam and they are surreal landscapes to say the least. Literally black everywhere. Of course I wanted to stop but my wife was appalled and depressed by it as well as my driver and guide (we’d already visited a coal harvesting production earlier). Crazy world…..

  • Thanks for the input, Johan. That’s what I don’t get. If the photographer comes with ready choices, then what has been the role of the editor? I am really at a loss here, sincerely.

    Let see if I can play BURN editor here. A P. (or David/Bob/Anton) sends me an essay. I join the P, on what is the essay for, or presented as. the P is going to tell me if it is just a single work, relying on his photos and a text, or tell me is part of a bigger project, multimedia project. Then I may ask to see it, remind him that multi-media is quite on the mind of David, and that a word from him about it and a link to it, if he wishes so, might really show the scope of his involvement in the subject. Still his (her) choices, he may after all only showcase his photo essay, but we talked a bit.

    That’s all it’s about, talking about it.

    these sort of questions should be directed at the photographer
    My “big question” was as much to Brent, than anyone else. But the P may not be available as comments and questions come forward. Let’s get a few more guys to talk with the Ps beforehand, it’s a good experience for everyone involved.

    I just read Charles post. Here again, I presume wrong maybe, I wish he had the chance to see the trailer.

  • Thanks for that informed response Herve. What has become obviously apparent is the debate over the degree of involvement the editor should play in the finished product. This is natural given that the Burn audience is derived from different backgrounds. Some may argue that the editor should use his or her experience and position to shape the final product in a way that delivers the whole package to the audience. Consequently the audience will then have access to the whole story via links. However, others may argue that this is not the editor’s job at all, and the photographer should have the final say – it is their editorial decision. And if the viewer wants to learn more about the essay, well google is just a click away.

    What I think is important to mention also, is that being published on the net is still in hindsight a recent phenomenon. This is why the Burn audience is still split over editorial ‘say’. Printed publications, either magazines, books, newspapers have of course a longer history, so the role of the editor is in that sense more grounded or established. A new concept like publication on the net is still undergoing a massive transformation. So, a person with a background mainly reading printed publication, may come to a net publication with the mindset that the editor should have included everything on the page for readers to see. Because, it maybe a lot less convenient to do a follow up investigation of an author via the traditional means of libraries etc. When I say convenient, I don’t mean better, just faster. Libraries can reveal back publications, old editions that never were downloaded onto the net. However, contemporary photographers may have their newer work only accessible on the net, via links.

    Alternatively, the newer generation may argue that everything is all on the net anyway, so why should the editor include extraneous information that the viewer can find easily anyway. Of course, this demarcation is not as divided as I have loosely portrayed, but I still think that ones background may effect their opinion on editorial control. In another sense, that is what makes Burn and internet publication so interesting to begin with; this evolution of the roles of artists and editors in a different media setting – the internet.


    the role of editor varies from story to story….some need editing, some do not…and i think one of the problems with the net so far is that there is not much editing of any kind going on…photo sharing is what is happening, and hence the frustration…

    in my role here, i think for sure i want the photographer to sign off on what is published…but, the photographer also has an obligation to provide the editor with all pertinent information so the editor can decide on the level of integrity…the aesthetics and the sequencing are another issue….

    however, the audience must believe in the editor , otherwise there is no point in coming to any site in the first place…if nobody wants an editor, then they can just go out and find any picture they want anytime, anywhere…hopefully , we will soonest be publishing original photography done for BURN exclusively…this will bring on a whole new role of editing…i.e. assigning….

    Johan….my audience, the photographers i mentor, are generally in the 18-35 age group…i would say this is the younger generation…i can tell you they are absolutely craving having an editor… freedom to do what you want is what we all say we desire…but, at some point everyone seeks guidance….an actor is nothing without a director, and a director is nothing without an actor….etc etc

    cheers , david

  • ……. editors are too easily perceived as censors on the net


    we are working on a story with you right you feel censored in any way??? isn’t your artists statement , your artists statement?? is your essay not going to be run as per your wishes??? my only role with you , and with many others, is that i like it…feel it worth publishing…i have selected it…

    other photographers and artists may require more help or guidance…you do not…

    there is a time to mentor/edit, there is a time to just let it roll…

    cheers, david

  • BRENT – i personally thought this essay is beautiful. the mystery, the framing, the B/W, the subject…. i also appreciated the nice tight edit… great work – i look forward to seeing more of your work.

  • Because a large component of this website is teaching, editing clearly has a big place here. You don’t need burn to put up a photo gallery. A single click in Lightroom will do that. So I don’t think an accusation of censorship is at all relevant.

    Clearly, there will be situations where a decision is made not to run a photo or essay at all. But editorial discretion is hardly censorship. If your photography isn’t child porn or some other clearly illegal activity, nobody is going to stop you from publishing it yourself.

    It’s not like the days before the web, there are no financial obstacles to publishing on the web. And a specific venue is under no obligation to publish your work.

  • David I am not concerned with censorship/editing issue on a site of this nature but there are a heap places out there on the wonderful world of the www where site owners or regular posters demand codes of conduct, ethics etc that are restrictive and clearly violate one’s freedom of expression etc.Of course one can go elsewhere and not post on a site………then again we have a govt in Australia saying that they would like to “edit” what we can access on the net

  • Jim I was not singling out anything on this site, all I stated is that editing is perceived as censorship by many who use the net……nor did I make any accusation of censorship here so don’t twist stuff around to suit your high horse morality

  • Actually, Imants, my comment was more general than specific. My reference to this venue specifically was only that. Nobody on any site on the web has an obligation to publish anything. But any photographer is free to publish his own work without restraint (unless the subject matter is illegal). Sign up for a free web site and put your photos there.

  • No it is quite specific in what you stated . “So I don’t think an accusation of censorship is at all relevant.” ……. as for the rest of your post it shows a surprising naivity

  • Australia making efforts to curb web freedom is a serious issue – if anti porn laws bleed into the arts world the subjective perception of some about what ´porn´ is could be restrictive..

    regardless, the role of an editor is to deem the suitability and quality of content to my mind – far from being a negative ´censor´ which i understand some on the web may view them as, to me they hold the positive position of quality control..

    what i find is that the web is astonishingly free.. while some websites might not be, as a whole it is a great deal freer than the gallery spaces and arts institutes which commonly enter the news for banning this or that photograph..

    david AH could just take submissions and pick the ones he likes most and bang them up – as magazines take pitches for stories or work on spec, however what he´s doing is more – it´s a positive.
    in attempting to bring good dialogue the work being shown has been varied and interesting..

    for those worried about ´the edit´ and who´s edit we are actually seeing – it is the photographers.. always..

    now – david has been helping me out with the last mile of the marathon project i´ve been on.. helping me to THINK about the work as the final choices are made.. lending his opinions and illustrating them by showing me the photographs of mine he appreciates.

    the edit will always be mine though.. is mine.. from the 50 or 60 000 negs shot over 10 years i have got it down to 7 or 800 now.. david has seen 250.. so – what he has seen is in the first place very tightly edited..
    so if i were to present ONLY the photographs david has chosen, who´s edit would that be?
    for the most part – mine i believe…
    i´m certain that in the last moments before publishing i will have greatest influence over the edit because i already have that..
    sequencing and THINKING about 10 years worth of work.. narrowing down to 100-150 photos.. it needs a mirror for thoughts.. and david is kindly helping with that while in addition choosing stories..
    it´s a great help.

    i think it is tremendously sad when there is crit of the editing on burn.. because there is only positive and helpful stuff going on – nothing restrictive and everything encouraging.. and i´m sure people he has helped before will agree – we´re the ones doing the work.. having done the work..


  • Apologies Brent, I thought that you had made the final ten with this work…. who knows. Maybe you have. Regardless of grants and money and where you find it, I’m sure your work on this project will widen and deepen.

    Keep going!


  • its great that you are putting light on an issue which is present in india for so long…
    yet the images dont show me somehting i havent already seen… being an indian that is…
    I itch for something more…
    good luck!

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