Geamana - Moving Mountains, Forsaking People


Before my time, an industry – ever growing in its enormity – gave great hope to a diversity of peoples east of the Iron Curtain. Abundant natural resources and politically guided and thus cheap man-power made an initially fast economic growth easy to implement. Greater masses of workers, greater machines – the Soviet Union strove towards greatness at all costs.

Documenting the decay of deserted industrial sites, especially open-pit gold, copper and coal mines, and the surrounding existences has opened my eyes to the helplessness of those left behind. Speaking with those who have witnessed this transformation, it seems, ever since the strict Soviet rule broke, corruption has left an entire country like Romania – since 2007 a member of the European Union – to be laid waste by the greediness and power of a few. Many admit the Soviet regime, ruling with a rod of iron and draining countries of their resources, was disastrous. But they are also angry with today's leaders as they sell off the country to foreign (now often western) corporations for personal gain.

Whilst mountains were being cut open and removed, reshaping landscapes, towns grew around promises of prosperity. Today many have fled. Others remain and inhabit ruins. Husbands and sons work in other countries to support their families at home, barely getting by. Gold corporations come in, buy and restore historical buildings, again promising economic well-being. Settlements are built in the middle of nowhere – in forests, on hillsides near a mine - upon rash speculations. Profiteering has whole towns in dispute over selling out or standing up against the exploitation of their land.
Near the vanished village of Geamana merely a few of the elderly remain, constantly moving uphill towards the huge copper mine that eats away at the ground and floods the valley with its chemical waste.
Exploitation began in 1978, leading to the formation of an open pit with a diameter of 800 m and a depth of over 300 m below the original ground level. Rosia Poieni is the largest copper reserve in Romania and the second largest in Europe. A dam was built to contain the mine's waste within the Sesia Valley, where once about 1000 households lived - the people of Geamana. Now only the old bell-tower still rises from the lake as a last dunning forefinger of remembrance. Covered below the thick sludge of different, grey and blue and red and white liquids emitted from the copper mine Rosia Poieni lies the old village.

Besides being pumped through pipelines, fluids also come down in a small stream. They call it the Evil Water, because the animals which drink from it die.
Those left behind try to live the life they have always known, growing their own fruits and vegetables, keeping cows and pigs and chicken. No running water, no heating but the old stove. Hardly a man left to repair house and tools. Nor have any of the younger generation stayed (they help with the harvest or bring supermarket products from time to time). Life is at its end at Geamana, Carpathian Mountains, Transylvania, Romania.

To follow this trace of the unrecounted I have visited several more closed-down as well as some still operating mines in Romania.
In Rosia Montana gold has been dug for since the Romans, but now the town is divided into pro mine activists and those against it. The mining operations are currently on halt.
The mine at Anina has been closed since 2006. Families live in a more and more disintegrating city. Romani families collect rubble to sell elsewhere as building material. On one of the surrounding hills, a town of multi-storey concrete buildings was built to house ten thousand workers for a power plant project in the 80s. A new community of the social substratum is setting up camp there.

How has this relatively rapid rise and fall of such a voracious system prompted a change of perception? “What gain has the worker from his toil?” Can the turned over soil serve as a symbol of a people ready for sowing, instead of simply being a monument to man's short-sighted destruction? Hope in a new season, instead of resignation and withdrawal? Has this new time of planting already begun? Are these open mines empty spaces, room for something new? Do these ruins not attest to an inevitable system change? Will the old, whose time spanned across the charge and later destruction of an entire system, pass their insight on to the following generations to change their take on life also? Or is their time but counted by the length of a flickering candle hidden under a bushel that, once it expires, leaves nothing behind?

I want to document this interim in the hope that it will testify about the past and that the future will once be proof of what these photographs predict about it now.

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