Tamara Merino

Gabriele Gouellain, a German immigrant, waits in the kitchen for her husband to return from mining. According to the Coober Pedy district council, about 60 percent of the town’s residents are originally from Europe, having migrated to the area after World War II. Coober Pedy, Australia 2015. ©Tamara Merino

March’s featured photographer is Tamara Merino

Tamara Merino is an independent documentary photographer and photojournalist, currently based in Chile, focusing on human and social issues, identity and migration. In 2015, Tamara was selected to participate in the World Press Photo Latin America Masterclass and her work was recently exhibited in Washington D.C. as part of the 2017 World Press Photo IDB side exhibition and in Maciel Foto Documental collective exhibition in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 2016, she was a finalist for the Magnum Foundation’s and Inge Morath Award. In 2017, Tamara was the awardee for the Foundry Photojournalism scholarship and was selected for the Portfolio Review ERRANTE – International Photography Festival in Uruguay, where she was awarded for the Wabisabi Residency scholarship. In 2018, Artpil selected Tamara for the 30 under 30 women photographers.

Her work has been published in multiple online and print publications worldwide including; National Geographic, The Washington Post, Der Spiegel, Wired, Fish Eye Magazine, Joia Magazine, Folha de Sao Paulo, Bloomberg, Roads and Kingdoms and Sydney Morning Herald, among others.

Coober Pedy, Australia

It is a hot day in the desolated Simpson Desert. A man walks through the tunnels of his underground house with a torch in his hand. He lives eighty feet under the red soil, where he has been finding opal for over twenty years. It was an old mine that he transformed into a roof over his head: a home that promise to have plenty of opal in the walls. “I got my own bank if I want to get a shovel out”. Says Martin Faggetter, an English miner.

The town of Coober Pedy, which derives its name from the aboriginal name Kupa- Piti or, white man hole, is located in the southern Australian outback and is isolated 530 miles away from the nearest large city. Coober Pedy exists as a subterranean culture, in which the majority of the population searches for the great wealth of opal deposits there. This is an unconventional town where most of its social and personal life takes place under the vast and lonely land itself.

Since 1915, Coober Pedy has been mined for this opal, a valuable gemstone worth millions of dollars. With more than seventy opal fields, Coober Pedy is the largest opal mining area in the world. Among its population of 1,695 habitants, Coober Pedy residents are made up of forty-five different nationalities of immigrants, ex- prisoners, and veterans of World War II that have all decided to escape their past lives and take refuge in their underground houses called dugouts.

Each year, mining opportunities have been decreasing on all fronts. There are less miners working in the fields and the younger generation does not want to commit to the mining lifestyle because of its inherent danger and instability as a source of income.

I first discovered Coober Pedy at the end of 2015 while traveling in a van with my boyfriend around Australia. We got a flat tire and stopped in what we thought was the middle of nowhere. We discovered, however, that we were actually in the midst of an incredible underground community where intimate daily life is invisible to those passing by on the highway. I began working there shortly after, and then returned again in 2016 to document the community. Coober Pedy is a closed community, and therefore wary of outsiders, but with time I made friendships that allowed me to do my work confidently.

Aerial view of the mining fields. Coober Pedy is the largest opal mining location in the world. Coober Pedy, Australia 2015. ©Tamara Merino
Joe Rossetto, an Italian immigrant, lives underground and operates a subterranean museum that holds his private collection of stones, fossils, opal, and antiques found in the desert around Coober Pedy. Coober Pedy, Australia 2015. ©Tamara Merino
Trucks, cars and junk from old machinery decorate Coober Pedy´s landscape, waiting to be used as spare parts. Coober Pedy, Australia 2016. ©Tamara Merino
Underground Orthodox Church built in 1993 by the Serbian community. Every Sunday the monk offers service. Coober Pedy, Australia 2015. ©Tamara Merino
An oil painting showing piles of dirt made by a drilling machine hangs on the wall of an underground house. Coober Pedy, Australia 2016. ©Tamara Merino
Jürgen Feldheim and Gabriele Gouellain, a German couple, prepare the table for dinnertime at their underground house. Jürgen is a miner who works by himself and Gabrielle is one of the few female miners that works occasionally with her husband. Coober Pedy, Australia 2015. ©Tamara Merino
Opal is one of the most valuable gemstones in the world. Its price varies between one and ten million dollars, depending on its type, color and weight. Coober Pedy, Australia 2016. ©Tamara Merino
Peter Broadbear searches with a black light UV torch the opal pieces that miners have left behind on the opal fields. Coober Pedy, Australia 2016. ©Tamara Merino
Goran Dakovic, a miner from the former Yugoslavia, searches for any trace of opal on the wall. He works with a circular tunneling machine, allowing him to potentially have access to more Opal. Coober Pedy, Australia 2016. ©Tamara Merino
Drilling machines used to mine oil create mounds of dirt on the surface. Over two million shafts have been excavated for prospection and extraction of opal. Coober Pedy, Australia 2015. ©Tamara Merino

To see more of Tamara´s works, here

La fotógrafa del mes de Marzo es Tamara Merino

Tamara Merino es fotógrafa documental independiente y fotoperiodista, actualmente residenciada en Chile, enfocada en temas sociales y culturales, identidad y migración. En el 2015, Támara fue seleccionada para participar en la World Press Photo Latin America Masterclass. En el 2016, Támara fue finalista en el renombrado premio Inge Morath de Magnum. Su obra “Underland – Australia” fue recientemente exhibida en 2017 en Washington D.C. como parte de la exposición paralela de World Press Photo IDB  y en la exposición colectiva Maciel Foto Documental en Buenos Aires, Argentina. Recientemente Tamara fue la ganadora de la beca Foundry Photojournalism y fue seleccionada para el Portfolio Review ERRANTE, donde fue ganadora de la beca Wabisabi Residencia, y además,  Artpil la selecciona como una de las 30 fotógrafas mujeres menores de 30 años.

Su trabajo ha sido publicado en múltiples publicaciones impresas y online en todo el mundo, incluyendo National Geographic, The Washington Post, Der Spiegel, Wired, Fish Eye Magazine, Joia Magazine, Folha de Sao Paulo, Bloomberg, Roads and Kingdoms y Sydney Morning Herald, entre otros.

Coober Pedy, Australia

Extremas temperaturas azotan el desolado desierto Simpson en Australia. Un hombre camina con una linterna en la cabeza a través de los túneles subterráneos de su casa. Martin Faggetter vive veinticinco metros bajo la ardiente tierra del desierto Australiano, donde ha encontrado ópalo por más de veinte años. Antiguamente su casa solía ser una mina de ópalo, la cual convirtió a punta de pala y explosivos en un cálido hogar; una casa que promete tener bastante dinero en sus paredes. “Tengo mi propio banco, si decido excavar en algún lugar”. Dice Martin Faggetter, minero Inglés.

Coober Pedy proviene del nombre aborigen Australiano Kupa-Piti o Hombre blanco en un agujero, y se ubica en el centro-sur del desierto Australiano, aislado por 850 kilómetros de la ciudad grande más cercana. En los oscuros y refrescantes subsuelos de Coober Pedy, habita una comunidad subterránea, donde la mayoría de sus pobladores va en busca de la gran riqueza del ópalo. Rompiendo con las estructuras sociales y políticas de un pueblo convencional, Coober Pedy te engaña con ser un pueblo fantasma y ausente de habitantes, cuando en realidad sus pobladores se esconden bajo la tierra del árido desierto,en donde durante 100 años han construido sus casas bajo tierra llamadas Dogouts.

Desde 1915 Coober Pedy ha sido explotado para la extracción del ópalo, una de las piedras semipreciosas más valoradas del mundo. Coober Pedy posee más de setenta campos mineros, siendo el área para la extracción de ópalo más grande del mundo. Su población no sobrepasa los 1695 habitantes, provenientes de 45 nacionalidades diferentes, entre ellos inmigrantes, ex prisioneros y veteranos de la primera guerra mundial, que al haber vivido y construido trincheras de guerra, decidieron rehacer sus antiguas vidas y tomar refugio en casas subterráneas.
No obstante, cada año la actividad minera desciende drásticamente. Hay menos mineros trabajando en las campos y los jóvenes no se quieren comprometer a este arduo trabajo físico, debido al inminente riesgo y su inestable ingreso económico.

Llegué por primera vez a Coober Pedy en el año 2015 mientras viajaba con mi pareja en una Campervan por Australia. Inesperadamente se nos pinchó una rueda de la van en la mitad del desierto, sin embargo descubrimos, que estábamos en el corazón de una impresionante comunidad que vive bajo tierra; donde su vida íntima y cotidiana es invisible al mundo exterior. Coober Pedy es una comunidad cerrada y por lo tanto desconfía de los extraños, pero con el tiempo hice contactos que me permitieron desarrollar la historia en confianza.

Para ver más sobre el trabajo de Tamara, aquí