"It's like being a hunter and the opal is your prey"; Antoine Bruy's insight into the world of the miners working sun-drenched South Australia
“The White Man’s Hole is a work about the town of Coober Pedy, in the South of Australia, and is the second chapter of an ongoing project called Outback Mythologies, about the Australian Outback and its importance for the Australian identity.”
So Antoine Bruy describes his latest work, which won the Next Photographer Award at the D&AD Festival 2017, run in partnership with Getty Images. “Choosing a winner was difficult, but Antoine Bruy showed a level of originality and technical expertise that raised the bar for the competition,” commented Andy Saunders, one of the judges and senior vice president of creative content at Getty Images.
Coober Pedy is a sun-drenched town in South Australia, better known as “the opal capital of the world”. The precious mineral was first found there in 1915 and extracting it remains the major source of income for the locals – who, to protect themselves from the extreme heat of their location, live mostly underground.
Bruy went Coober Pedy after spending a year in Australia, and says he was “astonished by the surreal landscapes” the first time he went, adding “it was breathtaking”.
Between the 1970s and 90s many miners worked the area, he adds, lured in by good returns permitted by the low cost of diesel – essential to their work, as it’s used to fuel the drilling machines. Now petrol prices have gone up, and there are less than 100 miners left in Coober Pedy. “They work mostly in winter,” says Bruy, “when the temperature is not so extreme”.
“Some people are addicted to alcohol and some people are addicted to drugs,” one of them told Bruy. “When you get the opal bug, mate, it’s very hard to get away from the bloody thing. It’s like being a hunter and the opal is your prey. You can track it and stalk it for years, always thinking it’s in the next bucket load. And then one day, when all hope seems lost, you’ll spot a flash of colour in the dull, brown clay. There’s nothing like it on this Earth.”
Bruy plans to shoot six chapters of Outback Mythologies, which so far also includes another chapter titled Facing the Dust. By winning the Next Photographer Prize, he’s received a $5000 grant from Getty Images to help him do so. Born in 1986, the French photographer graduated from the Vevey School of Photography in Switzerland in 2011, and has already been widely published and awarded.