XPOSURE 2019: Spanish lensman highlights child-labour plight in gold mines - GulfToday

XPOSURE 2019: Spanish lensman highlights child-labour plight in gold mines

A photograph from the Antonio Aragon Renuncio's exhibition.

Burkino Faso is today the fourth largest producer of gold in Africa. Just a couple of decades ago, it ranked as one of the world’s poorest countries. While many may hail this leap forward as a positive sign of development, for the children of the country, this transformation has come at a great cost.

With his photography series titled “Childhood Lost” currently on exhibition at the International Photography Festival, XPOSURE 2019, at Expo Centre Sharjah, Spanish documentary photographer Antonio Aragon Renuncio highlights, in vivid imagery, the plight of children in Burkino Faso who are forced to work several

hundred metres underground in the country’s famed artisanal mines in near-death conditions, “all for a handful of gold dust with which to feed the family.”
His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, inaugurated the fourth edition of the International Photography Festival XPOSURE 2019, on Thursday.

A photograph from the Antonio Aragon Renuncio's exhibition.

Years of drought and famine, and the need to stave off hunger, has seen families send children, “Many as young as 7 and 8 years old to work practically without rest throughout the year,” says the photographer who has been working in the African region for more than 25 years.

A highly secure area, it took him more than 18 months to get permission to enter the several small-scale mining operations around the country. Over the course of three years, on several trips to mining sites that dot the countryside, Antonio Renuncio produced a series of images that are at once moving and heart wrenching.

“What I saw there was unbelievable; straight out of a crazy and improbable movie,” says the photographer. “The mines are located in the middle of nowhere; set amidst inhospitable plains full of rocks. The kids get no sleep, there’s no one to monitor them, and all around me I saw the battered bodies of men, women and children who had toiled for more than eight hours inside an abyss without eating or drinking or getting even a whiff of fresh air. They dig deeper and deeper, hitting the wall of the hole in the hope of that elusive glow of a piece of stone.”

Safety and comfort seem like a million miles away in each of the photographs exhibited at Xposure. In one image, a young child sleeps next to the entrance of the hole in which he works to prevent another person entering it. A young boy steps out of another one covered in the thick red dust from deep inside the earth.

A photograph from the Antonio Aragon Renuncio's exhibition.

Another picture depicts the prized and precious gold coloured metal in the form of tiny particles scooped up in a labourer’s palms minutes before being sold off to an intermediary.

“My goal has been to show the pain and struggle children endure, not just in Africa but in countries around the world, to awaken the adults into some form of positive action,” says the photographer who presides over a charitable organisation involved in medical projects in the Gulf of Guinea in Africa.
Photography festival Xposure is open from 11am to 10pm until Sunday.

Organised by Sharjah Government Media Bureau, SGMB, the four-day event has curated 1,112 works by 357 photographers from all seven continents under four distinct themes, ‘Xpose Adventure’, Xpose Emotions’, ‘Xpose Art’ and ‘Xpose Life’. It runs at Expo Centre Sharjah until Sunday 10pm, and offers amateurs, professionals and hobbyists in the UAE to hear from 53 leading names in the industry, who have flown into Sharjah with their finest works and awe-inspiring experiences.

A photograph from the Antonio Aragon Renuncio's exhibition.

In his keynote address at the inaugural ceremony, the Sharjah Media Council Chairman reiterated the need for responsible and ethical photography practices. “Pictures are the most powerful medium in media today. In our digital era, a picture’s impact is stronger and more far-reaching than we can imagine. People require strong proof to believe in something, and pictures do that. This means, what we shoot and share with the world must come from a place of responsibility, knowing what we put out there will shape people’s opinions.