Brown coal (lignite) mining was one of the largest industries in former communist East Germany, with a long tradition, making the country self-sufficient in energy production. With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the beginning of the end of the industry, with tens of thousands of people losing their jobs. Most of the strip mines were abandoned and slowly the ground water, which had been pumped out over years, has been allowed to seep back in to eventually create a landscape of artificial lakes.
The mining industry offered much employment and gave people a warm home, yet many people lost their homes as well. In addition to the tremendous environmental damage, the biggest emotional, cultural and historical cost was the thousands of residents who lost their homes as countless towns were bulldozed away in past decades to make way for strip-mining. The people portrayed here are from the former 750-year-old village of Heuersdorf in Saxony, which no longer exists, and is now a giant black hole. The volume of coal underneath the village generated only a few years of energy. See the documentary film project — “Coal, Earth, Home” about the failed struggle to save Heuersdorf.)
Currently, the German brown coal mining industry is trying to revive itself and continues to look for new mining areas. With the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, Germany made plans to shut down its nuclear power plants, which has given a boost to the coal mining industry. Once again, towns are slated to be destroyed to make way for brown coal mining.
Robert Harding Pittman grew up in Boston and Hamburg, the son of a German mother and an American father. After receiving his undergraduate and graduate degrees in environmental engineering (U.C. Berkeley), an area of concern that continues to inform his work, he received an MFA 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 traveling exhibition and photography book, “ANONYMIZATION” (Kehrer Verlag) was nominated for the Prix Pictet and the German PhotoBook Award, and has received wide media attention (The Wall Street Journal, CNN, WIRED, Newsweek Japan, The Daily Beast, El País, ZDF, European Photography, Aesthetica Magazine, etcetera). The project has been exhibited internationally at festivals, galleries and other venues, including La Casa Encendida in Madrid, and continues to travel.
His award-winning documentaries address many of the same issues treated in his photographic work. His films show the environmental, human and cultural costs of the development of our lands and the extraction of energy resources, and have been screened at festivals worldwide, as well as on television.
Pittman’s photographs and films are in public and private collections.