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Faces of Black
Article and photographs by Süha Derbent

In the galleries which go plunge to a depth of 550m below the surface accessible only by a giant animalistic elevator, there reigns a damp and gloomy darkness. In these mining tunnels where water drips from the ceiling in places, the ventilation systems that eliminate the danger of fire and dampen explosions are so powerful that you can catch a hint of cucumber from the miners' table 100m down.

In the galleries of Gelik Mine with reinforced roofs so low that a man cannot stand upright, coal is extracted nearly 150m underground. You can easily recognize the miners on the streets of Zonguldak by the black encircling their eyes like a mask. Because of health risks unavoidable in their profession, two months spent toiling in the mine is tempered by a month's rest. Every day after working eight hours in the depths of the earth they are bussed back to their villages, exhausted. The next day they once again forsake the light of the sun. From their first days the miners start work below, the underground world shapes their lives, and with each passing day they feel more and more inextricably a part of it.

When hunger strikes the miners working underground
in Kozlu, they gather in small groups to eat.

Everyone comes to work carrying a plastic bag, sustenance brought from above. There is no specific time for meal breaks. For example, this photo taken 200m underground shows the workers coming together at a convenient moment, spreading newspaper on the ground to eat, almost as if on some subterranean picnic. Everyone then ushers out the contents of their bag: yoghurt, halva, cucumber, fruit, jam... The table is ready. They eat without removing coal dust from their faces and hands. During the meal, the faces lit up in the head torches are themselves lit by smiles. From time to time a news item on the "table cloth" draws attention. After reading the news lively discussions ensue.

After the sometimes suffocating, sometimes freezing
air underground, the miners recover a little in the
hot, steamy atmosphere of the baths.

As in other professions, miners leaving the night shift head straight for the changing room and then the bathroom. Removing coal black from face and body is no easy task, often requiring a long turn in the bathroom. However, they are anxious to catch the service bus which leaves in a short time, often leaving the bathroom without taking time to remove the coal black from their faces. The blackness has come to represent pride in a day's work.

At the entrance to Gelik Mines, like other mines of the Turkish Anthracite Foundation, notices on "the formula" and warnings catch the eye... To reach the elevator that goes underground, one must walk a long way along the rails or water channels in the tunnel. Water often drips from parts of the ceiling, accompanied by a violent wind.

Miners just finishing a shift at Gelik Mine. All are tired and have had their faces painted with coal dust. Soon, the shafts they have left will come alive again with the arrival of the 16.00-24.00 shift workers. Before descending to the mine, they light one cigarette after another, as they are about to spend eight hours without smoking. They savory the last deep drags before getting into the elevator..

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