Man-made Environmental Disorders

In West Africa, India, and Indonesia, Matilde Gattoni has made the environmental and social impact of climate change the central focus of her work, especially when the cause is today's race for consumerism.

© Matilde Gattoni, from the series, Ocean Rage. Abgavi, Togo. The house of a young couple recently destroyed by the rising sea level. The village of Agbavi is one of the coastal erosion hotspots in Togo. Dozens of houses have already been lost, forcing the local population to relocate several times.

When I talked with photographer, Matilde Gattoni, she was just coming back from a journey across West-Africa documenting the impact of rising sea levels in 13 countries spanning from Mauritania to Namibia. With tides growing higher and waves stronger every year, fast erosion is a short-term concern. “Large populations live on this coast, in economically booming cities like Lagos and Accra. These countries will not survive if we don’t do something”, she commented.

Before this, Gattoni and writer, Matteo Fagotto had already explored the impact of man-made environmental disorder on communities through the documentation of mica mining in the impoverished state of Jharkhand, India, and tin mining on the Indonesian island of Bangka, which provides around 30% of the world's supply. Both mica and tin are key components of our daily products, though we sometimes don’t suspect it. A natural insulator, mica is used in countless electronic and electrical products, while tin - a “death metal”, to quote Gattoni’s series’ title - is used in car components, food cans, and electronic goods.

“The final customer has the right to know how these products are made and to realise the impact that their choices have on remote communities that they have no link to”, Gattoni explains.

© Matilde Gattoni, from the series, The Slaves of Mica, India. A beautiful mother of four children, 25-year-old Sarita Devi fractured her right leg when the mine she was working subsised, completely burying her.

Though mica and tin mining may both have a huge impact on climate change, they involve very different motivations and consequences. In India, mica is found in abundance in a forest controlled by Maoists - it’s a very dangerous place that has been at war for 50 years without arousing the slightest interest within the international community. And when, concerned by the massive deforestation engendered by the extraction of mica, the government decided in the 1990’s to close all the mines except one, officials didn’t set up any alternative for locals to sustain themselves.

A result of the intensification of heat and drought over the past 30 years, the only resource available to the local tribe, the Adivasis, is indeed a fruit that’s barely good enough to produce a very rough alcohol. “Though the very friable soil is responsible for many deaths, locals are forced to mine illegally; they have no other option.”

© Matilde Gattoni, from the series, Death Metal, Indonesia. Bangka Island, Indonesia. Outskirts of Sungai Liat. Thousands of miners scratching the lake bed looking for tin. Makeshift pontoons are floating on the water, bamboo sticks are used to scratch the bed and plastic pipes suck the black gold and pump it to the surface.

Given the proximity of the sea that offers a ground for fishing, what leads to extreme extraction of tin in Bangka is not survival, but what a local mine owner cynically describes as “a fever”. “The main reason behind this over-exploitation is the lure of profit”, Gattoni clarifies. And this, despite the physical risks and the obvious environmental ravages of such practice - looking at a photo of what resembles a massive crater filled with water, it’s hard to believe that it used to be a luxurious land; “a beautiful forest planted in the middle of the ocean”, Gattoni guesses. Still, people are driven to illegal mining because it’s what nurtures our electronic-based contemporary society, whose need for new technology seems insatiable.

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Matilde Gattoni is a French-Italian photographer exploring human rights issues around the world.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.

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Getting Closer presents photographic works, mainly in a documentary vein, that speak about the causes and consequences of environmental degradation.

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