• PROOF:
  • December 24, 2014

Pictures We Love: Working to Live

Author
Proof Staff

At National Geographic, photography is what holds our stories together and what makes them shine. It’s what we do the best and love the most. Our photo editors work with thousands of images every year (if not every day) and so we asked each of them—editors from National Geographic Magazine, News, Traveler, Your Shot, and Proof—to share one picture that stood out for them in 2014. We didn’t ask them to talk about the “best” photo, but the one that resonated with them the most. Over the coming days, we’ll bring you their personal reflections and share the heart of what we’ve been up to this year.

A coal miner climbs a shaky ladder to daylight in Meghalaya, India.  A 19th-century mine in  the U.S. or Europe might have looked just as hellish; mines there are safer now. But coal’s environmental costs have grown—and become global.
A coal miner climbs a shaky ladder to daylight in Meghalaya, India. A 19th-century mine in the U.S. or Europe might have looked just as hellish; mines there are safer now. But coal’s environmental costs have grown—and become global.
Can Coal Ever Be Clean?” April 2014
Photograph by Robb Kendrick
Dennis Dimick, Executive Editor, Environment, National Geographic Magazine

When I first saw the picture I was awestruck, thinking this is what hell must look like. More than the fact Robb had climbed 400 feet down a rickety ladder into an illegal coal mine, what has stayed with me about this picture is that the man—a coal miner—must climb down and up every day, to earn a living, to make his way in the world. We take for granted the first-world benefits and convenience that cheap energy has brought to our lives. But for this man to have energy, and heat, and money to survive he must enter this dangerous and dark abyss each day and hope the walls or rickety ladder don’t collapse on him so he can go home at day’s end, to return once again.

These ship-breakers claim to be 14, the minimum legal age to work in the yards. Managers favor young workers because they are cheap and know less about the dangers, and their small bodies enable them to access a ship’s tightest corners.
These ship-breakers claim to be 14, the minimum legal age to work in the yards. Managers favor young workers because they are cheap and know less about the dangers, and their small bodies enable them to access a ship’s tightest corners.
The Ship-Breakers,” May 2014
Photograph by Mike Hettwer
Kurt Mutchler, Senior Photo Editor, Science, National Geographic Magazine

I can’t stop looking into their eyes. One by one, I stare. They seem older and wiser like the men they work alongside. Their youth is all but gone. Gazing into their eyes takes me deep into their souls. What have they seen? What do they dream? What does their future hold?

This photograph was captured by photographer Mike Hettwer while documenting the 80 active shipbreaking yards in Bangladesh. The boys were taking a break from work in a teahouse. The photograph ran in National Geographic’s May issue.

As our caption stated, the boys all claimed to be 14, the minimum age to work in the shipbreaking yards. Managers favor young workers because they cost less and are less knowledgeable about the dangers. Their small bodies enable them to access the ship’s tightest spaces where they use torches to cut the ships apart. It is extremely dangerous work with little or no safety training or equipment. Most child laborers in Bangladesh work to support their families.

I remember when I was 14. I was working a paper route for spending money, running on the cross country team, and trying to excel in the classroom—such a sheltered life so far from the hard lives of these boys on the Bay of Bengal. I thank Hettwer, who did this project on his own and brought it to the world through the pages of our magazine.

*****
Browse more of our favorite images from 2014 in these related “Pictures We Love” posts:

There are 15 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. NATELA
    February 5, 2015

    THE BEST PHOTO

  2. rock ket
    January 21, 2015

    save wild life is save the world
    thank you

  3. Vijay
    January 11, 2015

    Poverty and despair at work.I am blessed.May be ONE day we will find a better and a safer way to extract coal,until then we will see innocent faces all over.

  4. Ali
    January 8, 2015

    seriousness and perseverance waves
    in their sad looks .I think these teens can cope with the difficulties of the lives better than those teens of their ages who are living in wealthy families.

  5. Sudipto
    January 7, 2015

    The child labour is a very emotional topic. But have you seen “old labour”? It is not a fashionable topic to discuss. But the Third World is full of very old people working hard at manual labour in various illegal or unorganised factories. Theirs is not a less compelling story. I hope some day someone will do a story on them.

  6. Michael Mason Norman
    January 2, 2015

    We in America have some pretty sheltered lives. Not all of us, but many of us cannot imagine the lives of those boys. Yet, many children in America complain about not having new spotless shoes and enough loose change for candy. America is dangerously spoiled–not all but too many to open our eyes to the world’s starving children who work harder than many adults in middle class America.

  7. Sam
    December 31, 2014

    Seeing this photo brought tears to my eyes- and I am a grown man, a cancer physician, working in a safe air conditioned hospital.

    GOD, PLEASE, I know You’re there- PLEASE help these souls, PLEASE help the oppressed…

  8. Isabel Hernández Tibau
    December 27, 2014

    Estoy probando de llegar a ustedes… vamos a vr si ahora está todo bien

  9. Isabel Hernández Tibau
    December 27, 2014

    Deseria saber por qué se rechazn mis datos y no me permite enviar comentarios . los sigo desde hace tiempo y siempre comento, pero últimamente me rechaza mis dato que yo corroboro y están bien. Por favor ayudenme! gracias

  10. Anna Landraae
    December 25, 2014

    It hurts me seeing their faces … Its Children … Their attitude .. Is like grown UP ‘ tuf’ Adults
    …the World IS not like it has to be ….

  11. wella
    December 24, 2014

    This is a great story of a young boy who did everything to live… Although it would be extremely dangerous to them nevertheless it would help alot to their families needed in order to live.

  12. Kirsteen
    December 24, 2014

    Why doesn’t this get made into a documentary? This is unimaginable in our comfortable, privileged world, and we need to see this!

  13. Sabiha
    December 24, 2014

    Its heart wretching to see these teenagers risking their lives to earn livelihood. Allaha Almighty please help them

  14. yogesh
    December 24, 2014

    You should broadcast one episode on this

  15. Mary wallace
    December 24, 2014

    Thanks!

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