Francesco Anselmi: Brown Coal Mining in Greece

The Italian photographer Francesco Anselmi’s long-term project deals with the consequences of the financial crisis in Greece. A large portion of the country’s electricity industry is concentrated in the Kozani region in Macedonia. The images, which Anselmi captured with an M Monochrom and 28 mm Summicron lens, throw a spotlight on the general situation in Greece. More of the story can be found in LFI 5/2015.

Q: How did you come across the topic of the Greek power industry?

A: I’ve been working on a long-term project about the consequences of the financial crisis in Greece for almost three years. During that time I’ve come to realize that the economical breakdown is not only compromising contemporary life in the country, but its future as well. Many decisions taken now will have effects in years to come, especially decisions regarding the environment and land exploitation. Greece produces 80% of its electricity with five coal power plants surrounding the second biggest open pit coal mine in Europe, located in the Macedonian region of Kozani. Apart from the current conditions of the area – which has a 50-year history of coal mining and produces the most CO2 emissions in Europe – I was struck by the fact that in 2013 the Greek government decided to begin the construction of a new coal power plant, scheduled to be ready in 2020. The project is financed partially by the Greek government and partially by various European banking groups, and will cost 1.4 billion euros. How can it be that a European country is investing in coal energy while even giants like China are starting to convert to more sustainable methods?

Q: What surprised you most?

A: The complete absence of any movement or committee that is fighting, or at least keeping an eye on, the situation. Most people there were born under these circumstances, so there’s an impressive attitude of resignation towards all the health problems they are experiencing. In addition, most of the population in the region has employment connected to energy production. Quite literally, they are dying from how they make a living.

Q: How long did you stay in the region of Kozani?

A: I was working in the area for almost a month. In that kind of place, nothing happens – life seems the same everyday. What you need there is time and patience.

Q: You photographed the Kozani reportage with an M Monochrom and 28 mm Summicron lens. Why did you opt for that combination?

A: Because I’d decided to shoot the whole project in black-and-white, I wanted to work with the M Monochrom, combined with the king of all 28 mm lenses, the Summicron. It’s a lens I’ve really fallen in love with, as it offers the right perspective for the kind of photography I’m producing right now. It gives me the opportunity to have a wide view of the situation, with results that are very similar to a 24 mm; however, as far as distortion and line proportions are concerned, it’s much more similar to a 35 mm lens. I don’t really believe in having a big backpack full of many different lenses, and the 28 mm suits almost every situation I’m photographing, allowing me to shoot straight reportage as well as landscapes and portraits.

Q: Were you convinced by the results?

A: I was very satisfied with the results; no other digital camera can compare with the range of greys the M Monochrom gives you with its B&W RAW files, and shooting with it in a B&W environment, such as a coal mine, was a real pleasure.

Q: How close was your contact with the people?

A: I had the opportunity to meet people who were interested in my research and willing to help me. Of course, I couldn’t have done it without them. Many of the workers helped me by taking me into areas I couldn’t have reached on my own. Just when I started feeling confident about driving around the mine (about 140 square kilometres), my compact car got stuck in half a meter of mud. It was the coal mine security who found me at sunset. I’m not sure they really believed I was a tourist who’d lost his way.

Q: What does this reportage mean to you?

A: I think this is a clear example of the current gaps and contradictions within a European Union unable to truly understand and face the challenges of our times.

Thank you for your time, Francesco!

– Leica Internet Team

Read the interview in German here. Connect with Francesco on his website and on Facebook. View more in LFI. Also available for the iPad and Android.

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