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Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Ilan Godfrey’s work focuses on the issues that reflect South Africa’s constantly changing landscape, documenting the country with an in-depth, intimate and personal conscience. The fruit of this work appears in ‘Legacy of the Mine’, a touching and visually stunning book published in South Africa.
For more than a century, South Africa has been associated with mineral wealth, both in diversity and abundance. Although South Africa is no longer the leading global exporter of gold, it remains one of the leading producers of gold, diamonds, base metals and coal.
Originally drawn to gold mining in Johannesburg, and the impact of its legacy on the environment, Godfrey’s experiences soon revealed something deeper – the broader spectrum of current environmental, historical and social implications of the mining industry.
He explains, ‘As I continued to explore the topic further, it was evident that ‘the mine’, irrespective of the particular minerals extracted, is central in understanding societal change across the country.’ Thus, the concept of ‘the mine’ became the thread that helped Godfrey frame his work.
Legacy of the Mine is a visual narrative of untold stories, exploring the consequences of mining on South Africa’s land and people. The objective was to reveal through the lens the forgotten communities that the mining industry has left behind. Godfrey’s subjects become symbols of the struggle for environmental and social justice in the country. Through a series of hauntingly beautiful photographs, Godfrey gives voice to his silent subjects, telling their story.
The ‘legacy’ of mining is apparent in many ways – through land rendered unfit for alternative uses, public health crises, land and water pollution, and the impact of historical labour exploitation on family structures. ‘Unveiling these stories,’ says Godfrey, ‘allowed me to delve deeper into the effects of ‘the mine’ on the profoundly polluted landscapes that are constantly negotiated by the local communities.’
Godfrey’s inspiration was not defined by statistical or scientific evidence. Rather, it was the product of personal experience, investigation and knowledge gained through long hours of travel along potholed roads, across vast landscapes dotted with townships and mining communities across South Africa.
According to the artist, the project soon developed into something much greater than itself: ‘It became more evident as the project evolved that it resonates universally and can be used to showcase issues that we are all familiar with, irrespective of where we live: issues of greed, inequality and environmental degradation.’
Despite the ambivalent atmospheres he discovered, Godfrey remains positive about the impact of his book: ‘Ultimately I hope that this body of work ignites discussion about how as a society we need to stand together in bringing about a broader understanding of our shared resources.’