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Robert Harding Pittman
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Robert Harding Pittman. The effect of mining on the people and landscape of Germany, as countless towns were bulldozed away.

When you come home at night, you turn on the light switch, and the light bulb magically glows. We take this for granted. In most parts of the world, we have electricity thanks to a vast infrastructure based on coal.

Although coal gives us electricity, a warm home and jobs, coal-fired power plants are the largest emitters of global CO2. In addition to the tremendous environmental costs of coal mining, all over the world, people are forced to sacrifice their homes, cultures, their health, and at times their lives, for our energy.

‘CoalScapes’ shows the human cost of coal mining in Germany. In this one country alone, countless towns have been bulldozed away, with 1000’s of people having to sacrifice their homes to make way for strip-mining. The people portrayed in this project are from the former 750-year-old village of Heuersdorf in Saxony. They fought long and hard against the mining company to try to save their village. In the end they lost, their community being bulldozed to the ground, for the expansion of an open-pit lignite mine.

The images of Heuersdorf are contrasted with images of abandoned lignite strip-mines in the former East Germany, where all coal has been extracted. These wastelands, devoid of life, were all once verdant forests and centuries old villages, such as Heuersdorf, which were sacrificed to generate electricity for only a few years. Was it worthwhile?

Today, even though the German government plans to phase out coal by 2038, there still are villages which are slated to be demolished and become yet another black hole on the otherwise green map of Germany.

Is this sacrifice still necessary in the age of the “climate crisis”?



Robert Harding Pittman grew up in Boston and Hamburg, the son of a German mother and American father. After taking his undergraduate and graduate degrees in environmental engineering (U.C. Berkeley), an area of concern that continues to inform his work, he received an M.F.A. in Photography and Film/Video at the California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts). His main interest is how different cultures interact with the environment and how they manage “development”. Pittman’s travelling exhibition and photography book ANONYMIZATION (Kehrer Verlag) was nominated for the Prix Pictet and the German PhotoBook Award and has received wide media attention.

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© Rob Johnston

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