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 caused by today's race for consumerism. Her motivation? “The final customer has the right to know how these products are made and to realize the impact that his choices have on remote communities that he has no link to", she explains.

Matilde Gattoni, Two schoolgirls stand in their school that was destroyed by the rising sea level caused by climate change, Ghana.

When we talked with photographer Matilde Gattoni, she was just coming back from a journey across West-Africa to document the impact of rising sea levels in 13 countries spanning from Mauritania to Namibia. With tights growing higher and waves stronger every year, fast erosion is a short-term concern. “50% of the population live on this coast, in economically booming cities like Lagos and Accra. These countries will not survive if we don’t do anything”, she commented.

Before this, Gattoni and writer Matteo Fagotto had already explored the impact of man-made environmental disorder on communities by documenting 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 consumption. 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 realize the impact that his choices have on remote communities that he has no link to”, Gattoni explains.

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

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 at the exception of 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 to produce a very rough alcohol. “Though the very friable soil is responsible for many deaths, locals are forced to illegal mining; they have no other option.

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.

Matilde Gattoni, from the series "Death Metal, Indonesia" - Indonesia - Bangka Island - 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. Miners work from 8am until 5 pm surrounded by the undearable noise and black smoke provoked by the engines used to pump the black gold. They earn 15US$ per day. At least one miner die every week.

To learn more about her projects, visit Matilde's PHmuseum profile.

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