Photographing Saltpans of Mithapur
It was a cold winter morning, approximately 4:30 am when we started from Dwarka to catch an early morning glimpse of Saltpans. Mithapur is almost 25 kms from Dwarka which is known for Tata chemical plants. I was travelling with Mitchell Kanashkevich, a renowned photographer from Sydney and his local fixer/friend Hardik who we call as ‘Lion of Junagad’. I remember, we got down from bike and ran for a while to keep ourselves warm in the chilly morning.
Mithapur story began in 1939, when the Tatas took over the Okha Salt Works. Okhamandal was an undeveloped and desolate place where many kingdoms and civilizations had thrived in the past. Now there are acres of Saltpans and home to many workers who live close to their workplace. Another life which might be interesting to watch is the thriving avian life here. The Maan Marodi islands nearby are home to the painted stork. We chose to document saltpan workers over the birds this time.
We landed up in a salt pan which was not being owned by Tata, we requested the contractor to allow us for the shoot. He was nice enough to allow us and offer tea as well to warm ourselves. It was still dark, but the workers were already there on the fields, collecting the salt and filling up the trucks one after another. The salt workers reach the plant at 3 am and work till mid-day. It becomes extremely difficult to keep the eyes open when sun is high. Presence of three new faces and specially one foreigner distracted workers from their mundane activities. Soon Mitchell started to fly a drone over the fields and I could only imagine how fantastic the salt pattern would look from above.
It is one of the toughest jobs I have seen or photographed. Their feet deep in the raw salt, they were not using any gloves or plastic shoes which the government authorities are supposed to provide to all salt workers. The workers also bring their toddlers to the fields as there is no one to take care of them back at home.
Most workers here in the salt pans have been doing work for generations irrespective to the affect it may cause on their health. Though the feeling of being at salt field was surreal but indeed made me thoughtful about their life. Specially meeting a young girl Bharthi, who was working hard at fields, instead of being at school, because her father decided this future for her. Waving good bye to her broke a piece inside me; I wish I could do something for her. She is still in my thoughts.
Have you photographed any of such unusual work conditions? I would like to see