At the conclusion of the Photolucida Critical Mass event in 2006, three photographers were awarded monographs, Hiroshi Watanabe, Sage Sohier and Louie Palu, for his photo-project Gage Call: Life and Death in the Hard Rock Mining Belt. For Palu, along with Charlie Angus who conducted the interviews, their project was a personal odyssey conducted between 1991 and 2003.
Palu’s creative and moving narrative brings us on a journey from the distant and abstract qualities of working deep in a mine to the up-close and personal lives of the miners and their families. The project was photographed in a documentary style, utilizing black and white film, a medium that creates a resonance with the inky blackness of the mining shafts that are deep and hiding far from the sun, where artificial light is similar to the sun, intense relative to the darkness.
Interestingly, in Palu’s interview published in LensWork #73 (Nov-Dec 2007) just after his project was awarded the Photolucida Critical Mass award, he states “It was not until I met photographer Ken Light and legendary photo editor John G. Morris in 2004, that I was schooled in the art of photo editing, and the importance of sequencing images. After insights from them, I spent more than a year re-editing the Cage Call body of work.”
The viewer initially witnesses the act of mining deep in the earth. The miners are captured in silhouette or in mass; the workers are faceless and impersonal men, representing hard-working “mankind”. The workers and their equipment seem to lurk in the edges of the looming and forbidding darkness. Palu documents the working conditions that make it easy for me to perceive that this is not an easy career that the work is hard and the working conditions are harsh. Similarly, the landscape terrain around the area of the mining operations is a mass of nondescript buildings with a mine tower hovering in the background, a constant reminder of the dark catacombs waiting below.
Palu then gradually introduces us to the miners, providing them with a face and then their personal activities to allow us to become familiar with them, to think of them as individuals and to speculate about their personalities. But in doing so, he also introduces the personal dangers of this particular profession, perhaps one of the most dangerous of jobs. Without drama, he documents men who had been vibrant and whole one moment and permanently maimed the next. He leaves it to the viewer to image the ensuing terror that occurred.
The book concludes with an essay by Charlie Angus, an interesting combination of text and interviews. Angus and Palu worked together during periods of this project, each with a desire to add another dimension to their collective story.
As a book object, the book has stiff covers, offset printed in China with a sewn binding. The black and white photographs in the interior plates have a full, rich tonal range.