It’s been a while since I wrote a piece on this blog, but with good reason; I’ve been incredibly busy – traveling the four corners of the world!!
At the beginning of October 2010 I left London to undertake a two month project, across three continents, for Anglo American – one of the world’s biggest mining companies. I flew to South Africa, Australia, Brazil and Chile to photograph many of their mining installations, that continue to help keep the world as we know it running.
Anglo American have a vast collection of mining operations, all over the globe, bringing up coal, iron ore, copper and platinum to name but a few from the ground. Each of these mining processes is a complex combination of manual labour, graft, science and skill, all of which are highly photogenic qualities and we were going to get the chance to document all these things, with the intention of creating the most stunning photography we could possibly muster.
A certain style had been established early on, by the art director and client, about the look that was intended. This stipulated strict rules be placed on the use of artificial light, therefore meaning that available light should be used wherever possible. Secondly, that the images must contain some kind of human element. We were not to take images of a chunk of coal or a truck without having somebody in shot, representing this great organisation, of which their tradition is a proud one. The purpose of this shoot after all was to assist with the global re-brand of AngloAmerican, that would incorporate the tagline, ‘Real Mining, Real People, Real Difference’. That statement alone implied our focus was not to be placed on the machinery or even the product, but the people who make it happen. Also made clear in the style brief was that images should have a narrow depth of field. So if a miner was in the foreground operating a piece of machinery then everything in the background should be completely ‘knocked back’ out of focus. This was to be achieved by setting the cameras to a wide aperture, I’m talking 1.8 or even as wide open as 1.4 which also assisted with the low lighting that we were presented with underground. So in actual fact the ‘wide open’ approach served two purposes; style and necessity. All these key elements together completed the style that was referred to as being “on brand”.
From the outset it was clear that this was going to be an assignment unlike any we had taken on before. We were going mining, I mean proper mining – down the shafts and into the pits. This was going to be dusty and dirty. How would we cope? How would our equipment cope? We were also under these guidelines not to utilise any flash, to keep it natural, so how would that play a part in our approach to shooting underground where there would be no natural light available. These were all the thoughts going through my mind in the run up to the trip. Though I new I had the best kit available for this kind of assignment, a Nikon D3, a camera well known for having the ability to shoot at high ISO (i.e.. in low-lighting conditions) whilst keeping the noise levels to a minimum. This would be something I would have to my advantage when things became technically challenging, in the coal mines of South Africa in particular.
The mining was obviously the primary reason for our international visits. However another facet of Anglo American is their ability to affect and benefit the local communities in which their installations inhabit. Certainly in South Africa, the government encourage larger profile companies to submit a fraction of their wealth and influence into the localities, to help them prosper. South Africa is a country which has, unfortunately, a large number of people living in poverty. Much is being done to help these people battle disease and crime that, I’m sad to say, go hand in hand with poverty. The government, I believe rightly, encourage large organisations to contribute to this ongoing process of social progression. So the Anglo American community projects were a significant part of this assignment that were going to pull on our heartstrings a little and give me, as a photographer, the opportunity to capture some beautiful people pictures, that would contrast nicely to the metallic, dirty and industrial landscape of the mines.
This project was, without a shadow of a doubt, the biggest and most satisfying assignment I have taken on, to date, with some of my best ever work. It is the dream of most people, I’m sure, to make a living out of something they most love doing; well I am lucky enough to say that I do.
Below is a preview of a one off book I have put together entitled ‘Anglo American. Shooting On Brand.’ Please do have a look…