Underground with Bosnia’s women miners
Breza, Bosnia and Herzegovina
By Dado Ruvic
Since I started photography, miners have always been an attractive subject matter for me. They provide all photographic elements in one place. Throughout the years, I have often worked on stories below ground for the local newspaper, spending shifts with miners. As March 8th neared, I came up with the idea to do something different related to International Women’s Day. The story, which I had planned a few years earlier but had no reason to shoot, was now ready: Women miners.
One morning I went into the Breza mine and the first person that greeted me at the door was a very strong, smiling woman named Sakiba. I felt the spirit of mining through her. After she finished the morning’s preparation and made a few phone calls, we went to the change rooms. After I awkwardly donned mining clothes, our day started, and a crowd of dirty particles were smiling on my camera. At the entrance to the pit, there was a second miner Šemsa, waiting for us.
Both women have been working in the mine for over 20 years. Every wall, every pillar, every soul in this mine politely bowed to them. We descended in the elevator to about 400 meters below ground. About one year ago a major fire broke out in the mine and one of their friends died. During the time we spent together Šemsa said she finds it difficult to descend into the pit — it stirs very bad memories that are hard to deal with. However, she comforted herself in believing that death was meant for everyone, including her friend.
A few hours later we walked into the pit where the miners dug continuously. The two women tirelessly measured air pressure, air flow, and the presence of all kinds of gases, even helping their colleagues. Although these days I wasn’t in a laughing mood, hanging out with Sakiba was simply unforgettable! She is an endless source of humor, with an original character and original gestures.
Their day starts early. Sakiba usually wakes at 6am and eats breakfast. Her husband, a former miner, then drives her to the mine. Šemsa’s situation is slightly different — she has cows. Her day starts by milking the cows, then drinking coffee and a walk to work. Often she goes with Sakiba. This routine has been continuing for more than 20 years…
They say they do not get bored. Their colleagues respect them a lot and that’s what makes them happy. Šemsa and Sakiba’s fathers, brothers and close family were all miners, so they inherited this job. Sakiba, however, will not pass down to her daughter this hard earned way of making bread… Her daughter works in a convenience store and her adolescence has been much easier than her mother’s.
Full of positive emotions, I could talk all day, but I’ll let the pictures tell you more.