Tamara Merino Bloch

2015 - Ongoing

The caves have been the residence most used by men since prehistoric times. In the Paleolithic age, humans used natural caves as shelters, but in the Neolithic times they started to dig them in the stone or the earth to build houses. This is linked with certain climatic and geological conditions and with economic, historic and socio-cultural factors. The security and isolation that prehistoric populations found in these primitive natural shelters is still being used today by numerous troglodyte communities and nowadays there are over 60 million people living in caves around the world.

I have already documented two troglodyte communities in two different countries, which are presented on the pictures I’m sending along with the grant proposal. The first ten pictures (01 -10) belong to Coober Pedy, a town located in the southern Australian outback that inhabits a subterranean culture, in which the majority of the population searches for the great wealth of opal, a valuable gemstone worth millions of dollars. This is an unconventional town where most of the inhabitants live in underground houses called dugouts. The next ten pictures (11 – 20) belong to Andalucía, Spain where people have been living in caves for more than 500 years in different towns and cities along the state. Cave building in southern Spain started when the Arabs Muslims brought the tradition with them from the troglodyte communities of North Africa and nowadays this is the biggest cave settlement in Europe.

The funds from the Grant will be used to document the Tarahumaras indigenes community living in caves in northern Mexico. They are located in Barrancas del Cobre in the Sierra Madre mountain range in the state of Chihuahua. The Tarahumara people currently occupy a quarter of the territory and due to the occupation of this population for centuries, this mountain range is also known as Sierra Tarahumara. The Tarahumara people came from Mongolia crossing the Bering Strait about fifteen thousand years ago, but it was not until 1606 that the Spaniards displaced them from the lowlands towards the most remote forests and ravines of the Sierra Madre. As a consequence a big part of the community found shelter in caves that has been the home of many generations of Tarahumaras, who realized the stone walls protected them from strong winds and rain and prevented the entry of animals. This forced them to live isolated, and helped them conserve their culture and develop a unique religious syncretism that still exists and is unique in Mexico for its mixture of Catholicism and shamanism. The Tarahumara community maintains their ancestral culture and language intact, wear traditional clothes and dedicate themselves to local crafts. I will document the lifestyle, culture, and religious ceremonies of the Tarahumaras that still live in caves. This new chapter will follow the same methodology of work and visual narrative already developed with the previous two chapters.

“Underland” aims to illustrate the human condition and the important relationship between human beings and the environment in which they choose to live. All human beings inhabit the world in different ways, and the environment that surrounds them affects and shapes their lifestyle. While I have developed the first two chapters of this project on my own, I would like to work with an anthropologist to develop the rest of it. This will allow me to have access to specialized information and find the anthropologist reason why modern communities choose to live underground nowadays and therefor give global importance to this story.

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  • Gabriele Goullain, a German immigrant, waits in the kitchen for her husband to return from mining. According to the Coober Pedy district council, about 60 percent of the town's residents are originally from Europe, having migrated to the area after World War II. Coober Pedy, Australia 2015.

  • Trucks, cars and junk from old machinery decorate Coober Pedy's landscape, waiting to be used as spare parts. Coober Pedy, Australia 2016.

  • An unexpected storm hits Coober Pedy at the beginning of 2016, dropping the equivalent of half the amount of water that would fall in a full year in only two days. Miners need to wait for the ground to dry in order to go back to work. Coober Pedy, Australia 2016.

  • Joe Rossetto, an Italian immigrant, lives underground and operates a subterranean museum that holds his private collection of stones, fossils, opal, and antiques found in the desert around Coober Pedy. Coober Pedy, Australia 2015.

  • Underground Orthodox Church built in 1993 by the Serbian community. Every Sunday the monk offers service. Coober Pedy, Australia 2015.

  • An oil painting showing piles of dirt made by a drilling machine hangs on the wall of an underground house. Coober Pedy, Australia 2016.

  • Costa and Peter, Greek miners, are prospecting on an opal field. The extremely high temperatures during the day force them to work at dusk. Coober Pedy, Australia 2015.

  • Opal is one of the most valuable gemstones in the world. Its price varies between one and ten million dollars, depending on its type, color and weight. Coober Pedy, Australia 2016.

  • Goran Dakovic, a miner from the former Yugoslavia, searches for any trace of opal on the wall. He works with a circular tunneling machine, allowing him to potentially have access to more opal. Coober Pedy, Australia 2016.

  • Drilling machines used to mine oil create mounds of dirt on the surface. Over two million shafts have been excavated for prospection and extraction of opal. Coober Pedy, Australia 2015.

  • Manuel Gonzales, 77 years old, and Encarna Sanchez, 75 years old, pose for a portrait in their living room. This cave was the house of Encarna’s family. She was born in a room at the end of this cave and Manuel was also born and raised in the caves of Guadix. Nowadays they both live with their dog in the cave her mother inherit them. Guadix, Spain 2018.

  • Entrance of caves on the hills of Guadix. This town is considered the "European Capital of Caves" for its approximate 2000 caves spread over an area of 200 hectares of land most of them continue to inhabit about 4500 citizens. Guadix, Spain 2018.

  • Eric, a 65 year old immigrant from Germany, lives in the caves of Sacromonte in Granada since 1998. Eric lives by playing classical rock music in the streets of Granada. Granada, Spain 2018.

  • Judith, 12 years old, walk on the top of a cave house located at the “Neighbourhood of Caves” in Guadix, where most of the town’s population have been living in underground caves for hundreds of years. Guadix, Spain 2018.

  • Piedad Mezco, 83 years old and Antonio Ortiz, 86 years old, have lived all their lives in the caves of Guadix. Both of them were born inside a cave and were raised in the nearby caves of the hills. Guadix, Spain 2018.

  • A picture of Nerea while she was doing her first communion and 4 pistols decorates the walls of the cave of her uncles in Guadix. The out of the ordinary decoration is a common element that characterizes this troglodyte type of lifestyle. Guadix, Spain 2018.

  • Approximately twenty Senegalese immigrants live in the upper part of the hill in the caves of Sacromonte in Granada. Their motivation to live in the caves is mainly due to economic reasons. Granada, Spain 2018.

  • Cave where the gypsies perform the traditional flamenco dance. Flamenco was the traditional wedding ritual of the Gypsies and was banned by the Inquisition in the sixteenth century, but continued to be held in secret. The traditional Spanish dance "Flamenco" was born precisely in the caves of Sacromonte 500 years ago. Granada, Spain 2018.

  • Tocuato, 61 years old, was born in the caves of Guadix and has lived all his life in caves. His room is located in the deepest part of the cave and does not have windows, nor natural light and is decorated by huge toy stuffed animals. He is the fourth generation of his family who is living in caves. Guadix, Spain 2018.

  • Juan, 8 years old, Ainara 10 years old and Judith 12 years old, play in the abandoned caves next to their house. Guadix, Spain 2018.