“Though the molten sulfur looks red in daylight, during the night, the blue flames that reach heights of 5 meters (16 feet) are highly visible. The sulfur, which is right around its melting point at 115°C (240 °F), is pumped away from the volcano so it can cool and be collected by miners for 680 rupiahs per kilogram (about 2.5 cents per pound).
These photos were taken by award-winning photographer Olivier Grunwald. He faced extremely hazardous conditions during the shoot and had to wear a gas mask to protect himself against the toxic fumes. ”
Here is the description Olivier sent to us:
For over 40 years, miners have been extracting sulphur from the crater of Kawah Ijen in Indonesia. To double their meagre income, the hardiest of these men work nights, by the electric blue light of the sulphuric acid exhaled by the volcano.
As the light of day recedes, an eerie incandescence appears to rise from the depths of the Kawah Ijen crater. The high-temperature liquid sulphur that flows from an active vent at the edge of the world’s largest hydrochloric acid lake flares in blue flames that can reach up to 5 metres.
At the foot of the glow, miners bustle amidst the toxic fumes. They are monitoring the flow of molten sulphur as it pours out of pipes at 115 °C, and its subsequent crystallisation. Breaking up, gathering up, loading up and transporting the coagulated blood of the earth earns them a living. By the blue light of the flare, they extract hunks of sulphur, then carry them up the flank of the crater to sell for 680 roupees per kilo (about €0.04). But the loads they carry, weighing between 80 and 100 kilos, cost them their health—and sometimes their life. By working nights, they manage to haul out two loads every 24 hours, doubling their salary, avoiding the daytime heat of the Kawah Ijen cauldron, and despite the condition remaining independant
The sulphur, among the purest in Indonesia, is destined for the food and chemical industry. Whitening sugar, at the price of their health and youth, such is the destiny of these serfs to sulphur.
You can see more of Oliver’s work at his website.