The Devil’s Gold
photo by Luca Catalano Gonzaga (Witness Image Association)


Poniman, 35, surrounded by a sulfurous cloud, breaks the sulfur slabs using a metal pole. Most miners prefer working at night to avoid the suffocating heat during the day.


Mistar, 43, a sulfur miner for the past 25 years, uses an electric torch to lighten his path while carrying sulfur. This mine produces 14 tons of sulfur per day, then exported to China and South-East Asia.
Sulfur is very present in our dayly life: it is used to refine sugar, to produce sulfuric acid, and it can be found in many products of regular use such as medicines, cosmetics, matches, fertilizers, insecticides and fungicides.


Sahron, 40, half of which working in the mine, climbs the vulcano dayly with a load of almost 70 kg of sulfur carried in vimen baskets. A path he makes twice a day for 10 euros. On his way up, he stops to catch his breath again and alleviate the pain caused by the overload carried.


Sukari, 37, shows how the overload has been affecting his back. The sulfur extraction is an exhausting work, hazardous to the health as it causes breathing diseases and spinal deformations due to the overload. The average life expectancy of a sulfur carrier doesn’t exceed 50 years.


The miners protect themselves from the fumes in a rudimentary way. They are only given a torch and a pair of rubber boots as working gear. “We work in hell”, they keep saying, “our eyes and our lungs burn every day”.


Sapiupin, 39, a sulfur miner for the past 17 years, looks for sulfur slabs amidst the toxic fumes. The sulfurous gases burn the lungs, the skin and the eyes.


Mat Buang protects his face with a wet cloth. This is how he tries to breathe amidst the toxic gases that burn the lungs, the skin, the eyes.


The sulfur mine near the Ijen Kawah vulcano, in the island of Java, Indonesia, is active since 1969. It currently employs 300 miners who go deep facing an unbearable heat, the toxic fumes, and huge loads to carry for a fistful of euros.