The Devil’s gold

by Luca Catalano Gonzaga

Inside the womb of the Ijen Kawah volcano, in Eastern Java, Indonesia, the miners go deep in search of the Devil’s gold, as sulfur has always been known. Every day, three hundred men leave the base camp at the slopes of the mountain to reach the top of the volcano. They climb up three kilometers and then head downwards until the opening of the crater where the sulfur crystals lie. Nine hundred meters deep towards hell, defying the unbearable heat, rarefied air and the darkness, without any protection. The sulfurs gas hits the throat, burns the lungs, makes tears spring from the eyes. Only a few men have been given old gas masks as part of the scarce working gear: many prefer to work at night because the heat is more tolerable, putting a wet cloth in the mouth, in the vain hope of protecting themselves from the fumes and breathing better. A very hard kind of work which will end soon – the average life expectancy of the sulfur miners does not go beyond 50 years. The sulfur slabs are broken with the help of a metal pole and then carried in reed baskets that weigh 70 to 90 kilos. Then begins the return path of the 21st century sulfur picker, heading towards the volcano’s entrance, in a precarious balance, carrying a huge load that deforms the spine, bends the legs and produces ulcers on his shoulders. Then he delivers the sulfur slabs for the purification process, which happens at night and lasts 14 hours. All this for 5 Euros per day, 10 if the miner is able to repeat the same path once more. (text by Luca Catalano Gonzaga).


A selection of photos from the archive of Luca Catalano Gonzaga is available as collector’s prints. The goal of print selling is to contribute to the realization of the photographic projects of Witness Image that narrate the great transformations of our time.