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Picture of an Indian coal miner burning coal to make coke fuel for his family
Photograph by Robb Kendrick
Coal Tender

His ten-hour workday is finished. But now this miner burns coal from 4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. After the flames die down, what’s left are pieces of coke, a hot-burning fuel his family can use for cooking and for heating their home. His wife will sell any extra at the nearby market in Ranchi, in northern India. “I look at this man—he’s got three kids, I’ve got two,” says photographer Robb Kendrick. “The only difference between him and me is our circumstances.”

The man’s village is located inside a mining complex, where he works six days a week hauling 60-pound baskets of coal on his head, nearly five tons daily, for about four dollars a day. There is little relief from the smoky air. Coal fires, which have smoldered for decades because of accidents and poor management, release a constant haze of soot. This fire, ringed with children from the village, adds even more smoke and heat.

Kendrick spent a few days in the village building trust, then began taking pictures. “I was five or six feet away for this shot, and my hands were burning,” he says, amazed at the man’s fortitude. Before he left, Kendrick snapped a portrait of the man’s family, located a print shop, and gave a copy to the “beaming” father. —Eve Conant