Tamara Merino

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 earth to build houses. This is linked with certain socio-cultural, climatic, economical and religious factors and each one of the communities that I have documented for this story has its own reason that drives them to live underground. The security and isolation that prehistoric communities found in these primitive natural shelters are still use today by modern communities like the ones I mention below.

The first seven pictures (01-07) belong to Coober Pedy, a town located in the southern Australian outback that inhabits a subterranean culture, in which the majority of the population lives in underground houses called dugouts. This is an unconventional town where most of the inhabitants search for opal, a valuable gemstone worth millions. The next seven pictures (08-14) belong to Andalucía, Spain where people have been living in caves for more than 500 years. 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 last six pictures (15-20) belong to Utah, United States where a polygamist Mormon community lives in caves inside a rock since 1975. This rock is like Noah's Ark for them and will protect the entire community from the eventual apocalypses and will never be destroyed by any natural disasters. This community is also 100% sustainable with renewable energy, having its own solar panel system and a natural water well on top of the rock that provides to all the families in the community.

This project aims to illustrate the human condition and the important relationship between human beings and the environment in which they choose to live. Because we all inhabit the world in different ways, but in one way or another, we all have a strong relationship with the environment that surrounds us. Nowadays there are more than 60 million people living underground around the world and during the next year I hope to be able to document one community living underground in each continent in order to continue my ongoing project “Underland” that documents subterranean communities around the world.

The funds will be used to document the Berber community, who has been digging out homes in the ground for more than a thousand years in Matmata, Tunisia, Africa. This Tunisian subterranean community is a remarkable example of how well human beings can adjust to their environment in order to survive from the extreme heat and the harsh environmental conditions. Nowadays just a few remaining families still inhabit the underground houses who affirm they are attached to their homes and land, and will keep their tradition alive. This new chapter will follow the same methodology of work and visual narrative already developed with the previous three stories. The funds would go towards my travel expenses, accommodation, food and transportation in Matmata and to work with a local anthropologist in order to have a deeper understanding and access to the information that I require in order to share the global importance of this story.

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  • Gabriele Gouellain, 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 dot Coober Pedy´s landscape, waiting to be used as spare parts. 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.

  • Churchgoers attend a Sunday service in an underground orthodox church built in 1993 by the Serbian community. 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 type, color, and weight. Coober Pedy, Australia, 2016.

  • Goran Dakovic, a Yugoslavian miner, searches for any trace of opal on the wall. He has found a good amount of opal while working on this mine by himself for over three years. 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.

  • Piedad Mezco and Antonio Ortiz have lived all their lives in the caves of Guadix. They were both born inside a cave and raised in the hills. In the past, Antonio worked on a farm and Piedad made wood chairs. Andalucía, Spain, 2018.

  • Unique decor is common in the caves near Granada. Here, a resident has hung four pistols around an image of his niece at her first communion. Andalucía, Spain, 2018.

  • Tocuato Lopez was born in the caves of Guadix and has lived there all his life. When he married for the second time, he bought a new cave with his wife and their two children. His room is located deep in the formation and does not have any windows or natural light. Andalucía, Spain, 2018.

  • Caves cover the hills of Guadix, a southern Spanish region containing around 2,000 caves that have been used as homes for generations. Andalucía, Spain, 2018.

  • Eric, a German immigrant, has lived in the caves of Sacromonte since 1998. To make a living, he performs classic rock in the streets of Granada. Andalucía, Spain, 2018.

  • Senegalese immigrants sit inside a cave in the upper portion of the hills. Though the Sacromonte caves are known as the home of a large gitano community, residents of the caves come from around the globe. Andalucía, Spain, 2018.

  • Children play in abandoned caves next to their own cave home. In the past, every cave was occupied, but there are now multiple empty residences in their village. Andalucía, Spain, 2018.

  • Enoch Foster and three of his sons read the Mormon Bible during Sunday Church, which takes place in one of the caves of the community. This cave is for public use and anyone within the community can attend the Sunday Mass. United States, Utah, 2018.

  • Aerial view of the Hatch Rock, that inhabits 16 polygamist and Mormons families, which live in cave houses into the sandstone cliff of a huge rock. United States, Utah, 2018.

  • Lillian Foster lays on the floor with his one year old son. Lillian has twelve children and is the second of the three wives of Enoch Foster, the lieder of the community. Between the three wives the Foster family consist on 25 children. United States, Utah, 2018.

  • The Knecht family is having dinner in their underground house. This house was one of the first cave houses built by Bob Foster, the creator of the community, back in the 1070’s. Nowadays the Knecht family is in charge of taking care for the cattle and the indoor garden, which provides the whole community with fresh vegetables all year round. United States, Utah, 2018.

  • Front door of an underground house. Houses have been built by using dynamite to blast the caves into the sandstone cliff, and then covered on the outside to create modern homes with running water, electricity and Internet access. United States, Utah, 2018.

  • Elijah picks up apples from a tree in the outdoor garden belonging to the community. Each family of the community is in charge of a specific task, like taking care for the cattle, while others work in the gardens or maintaining the solar panel system. United States, Utah, 2018.