Campus News

Saldanha’s Photos Preserve Industries that Persevere

Story posted October 06, 1999

Guy Saldanha, Bowdoin’s Interlibrary Loan Supervisor, spends his vacations in coal mines, water tunnels and oil rigs, photographing the country’s heaviest and most enduring industries. He shared some of his photos, which are on display at the Bates Mill in Lewiston, at a recent faculty lecture.

His images could as easily come from the 1930s as the 1990s: a solitary coal miner kneeling in a 3-foot-high vein, shoveling coal onto a conveyor belt; a team of gold miners, decked out in lighted hard hats and heavy boots, 1,700 feet below ground; longshoremen in a massive cargo hold, shoveling tons of wheat onto a grain elevator.

His exhibit and his lecture are titled "Lineages of the Industrial Age." With his photographs, which represent 10 years of research, Saldanha traces the genealogy of both the machinery and the workers in these traditional industries.

"I’m interested in the social and environmental legacies left by industrial places," he said.

Only about half of the companies Saldanha has approached allowed him access to their plants and their workers. "You can imagine how receptive southern textile mills were to someone from a northern liberal arts college," he said. "And the meat packers didn’t want me photographing them for obvious reasons." But, sometimes after hours of persuasion, many granted him permission to spend a full shift, or several days photographing.

One set of photographs shows the Standard Steel railroad repair shop in Pennsylvania, which has been in operation since the 1850s. To this day, it produces more than half the rail wheels and axles in the United States. The shop, a dark, cavernous structure where the air is full of fine metal fragments and sand, includes its own steel foundry. A 75-ton ladle pours molten steel into ingot molds, causing frequent explosions as gas escapes from the steel.

Saldanha spoke of the gold miners of South Dakota, who take elevators 9,000 feet below the surface. It’s so hot in the mines that the workers often forego the hard hats, goggles and respirators that would make their jobs safer.

And being an Appalachian coal miner is much safer than it was a generation ago, Saldanha said, but theirs continues to be a hazardous job. Explosions caused by methane gas escaping from the coal could be contained if it weren’t for the coal dust in the air. The dust is highly flammable, causing the air itself to burst into flames. To prevent that, coal miners sprinkle stone dust by hand on freshly cut coal, giving the mines an oddly white appearance.

Saldanha said he’s actually been able to hear gas escaping from the coal deep in the mines: "It sounds like you have your ear next to a bowl of Rice Crispies."

Saldanha is exhibiting 85 images in 72 frames at the Creative Photographic Art Center of Maine in the Bates Mill, 59 Canal St., Lewiston. The exhibit runs through Oct. 15 from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

« Back | Campus News | Academic Spotlight | | Subscribe to Bowdoin News by Email