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PORTFOLIO

24.05.2021

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Influenced by photographers Gilles Peress, James Nachtwey and Paolo Pellegrin, the Italian photographer, Stefano Schirato, set out for India, to document in photographs the inhuman conditions at the coal mines there. In this interview, he shares how he came to deal with this subject and the challenges he had to overcome over there.

LFI: What was your initial idea behind this project – what exactly drove you to depict the situation in Jharia?
Stefano Schirato: In general, my favourite subject is definitely people – telling personal stories about the marginalised in our society. I started working on the environmental pollution issue on the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Next, I focused on environmental disasters in Italy and then started looking for stories related to this topic in other countries. That was when I stumbled across the issue of Jharia, and decided it was a story worth telling. I ended up staying there for one month.

Can you give us a sense of people's daily life there, and how your photographic work was affected?
Living in Jharia is more like surviving: people make a living in the illegal coal trade, constantly putting their lives at risk due to the nature of the terrain. The air was full of smoke and breathing was difficult; we had to wear a face mask all the time. The most difficult thing was the fact that I had to take pictures in areas where entry was forbidden; so I had to act very quickly. Furthermore, I constantly had to pay attention to only move around in areas where the ground wasn't at risk of sinking.

What did this project teach you?
This work definitely taught me the importance of resiliency. I was particularly impressed by the story of Muskan Kumari, a 13 year-old girl, who had lost a leg after sinking in a hole in the ground, but who still remains a girl full of life. I’ve seen her running around her house and smiling, despite what she had to go through. (Interview: Danilo Rößger)

Read the full story in LFI magazine, issue 4/2021.

All images on this page: © Stefano Schirato
Equipment: Leica Q, Summilux 28 f/1.7 Asph.
© Paolo Iammarrone

Stefano Schirato

Born in Bologna in 1974, Schirato graduated in Political Sciences and then went on to a career as a freelance photographer working with a focus on social issues. He collaborates with magazines, associations and NGOs such as Caritas Internationalis and Emergency. His work has been published in media outlets such as the New York Times, Vanity Fair and CNN. Schirato teaches Photography at the Leica Akademie Italy.

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