Looking through the ICP archive’s library, we discovered a 1991 New York Times Magazine with a profile of Sebastião Salgado photographing workers in Kuwait battling fires in an exploding oil well. The Greater Burgan Oil field is the second largest oil field in the world, and was attacked by retreating Iraqi soldiers and set aflame in 1991. In addition to the fires, oil wells pipes burst and workers struggled to repair them.
The image is captioned in the article “The work is exhausting. It all must be done by hand because a stray spark from power equipment could re-ignite the well. For two days these men have been trying to remove a well head that was blown up by Iraqi explosives.”
Like the firefighters in the pictures, Salgado must have been working while completely soaked in oil. Despite not sharing a language, the men all have respect for the others’ task, “These guys are heroes of out time, They are doing hard, difficult work, That is part of their pride, part of their life, part of their love. It’s very important the pictures can reflect all this.”
If you’re interested in seeing more work by Sebastião Salgado, the exhibition Sebastião Salgado: Genesis, opens September 19th, 2014 at the Museum of the International Center of Photography.
Wald, Matthew L. “The Eye of the Photojournalist, Sebastião Salgado in Kuwait.”The New York Times Magazine, June 9, 1991: p.28