In 2016, Maxim Marmur was commissioned by the Siberian Coal Energy Company to photograph more than 20 mining, preparation and transportation facilities across Russia.
The commission inspired a personal body of work, shot entirely in black and white, that attempts to go beyond industrial imagery, and into the lives of the workers Marmur encountered. The result is a series of photographs that show the harsh conditions of daily life underground, contrasted with the close bonds and spiritedness of the workers.
When Marmur’s shortlisted photograph was taken, Russia’s coal industry was the sixth largest in the world: 150,000 miners – many of them based in small mining communities in the vastness of Siberia – were producing 1.1 trillion tonnes of coal each year. The close bond between the workers is crucial to their ability to withstand the difficult and dangerous working conditions of coal mining. “Underground, everyone teams up and becomes a single organism,” says Marmur. “The safety of all the workers in the mine depends on the actions of each one of them.”
The photograph Marmur entered into Portrait of Humanity captures the miners going up in a cage lift after a shift, about to take the first breath of fresh air after a long day working underground. “When I took the photograph, somebody made a joke and they all burst out laughing,” he says.
The wider series also shows how the mining industry has changed; man now works symbiotically with machine, depicted in photographs that juxtapose the iron hand of a machine sifting coal, with the blackened, coal drenched hands of a worker as he squats on his break.
Originally intended as a small-scale personal project, Coal People has garnered attention around the world. In March 2018 it featured in the Orvieto Fotografia Festival in Italy, before being exhibited in Moscow, where it was seen by more than 50,000 people in three weeks. In September 2018, it was the main exhibition at the Pingyao Photography Festival in China, and won Marmur the title of 2018 Photographer of the Year at Moscow International Foto Festival. Marmur’s shortlisted image will now appear in the Portrait of Humanity book, which will be distributed worldwide.
Portrait of Humanity serves as a timely reminder, that despite our many differences, we are able to unite as a global community through the power of photography, to create one of the greatest collaborative photography exhibitions in history.