In June, Viewpoint Photographic Art Center presents in its main gallery the photographs of László Bencze in an exhibition titled Onsite: Men of Mining.
“Mining companies get a bad rap in the press,” says László. “No one wants a mine in their back yard. On the other hand everyone wants computers, TV sets, cars, cameras, washing machines, cell phones and all the other good stuff of modern culture. And just about all of that good stuff begins life somewhere in the ground.
“The people of mining work hard, safe, and honorably, taking pains to cause as little damage to the environment as possible and remediating that which is inevitable. I have enjoyed my assignments onsite and have come to admire these dedicated workers, craftsmen, and artisans who transform dirt into the raw material of civilization.
“In a sense, what miners do is similar to what artists do. Both are in the business of taking the mess and confusion of opaque reality and bringing its meaning to light. Miners do so physically; artists metaphorically. In my photography onsite I am always on a quest for the telling detail, the revelatory moment, the meaningful pattern. Most of all, I look for people.
“Finding people in the modern mine environment is not so easy. The image imprinted on so many people’s minds is of gold rush days when miners carried picks and shovels. Those days are long gone. Modern miners sit in the cabs of haul trucks, shovels, and bulldozers. Some inhabit control rooms surrounded by video screens which they manipulate with keyboards and computer mice. The only freestanding human beings you are likely to encounter at a mine site are the ones performing repairs, installing new equipment, or doing exploratory drilling.
“The truck repair shop is always good for catching mechanics alongside their gigantic machinery. But the best place for true grit is still with the drillers. Their twelve-hour shifts involve lots of direct contact between man and metal, not to speak of mud and grease.
“I see myself as working in the great tradition of documentarian photography established by such masters as fellow Hungarians André Kertész, Brassai, and Robert Capa, ‘the greatest war photographer in the world’ as Life magazine once proclaimed; Margaret Bourke-White, whose picture of Fort Peck Dam graced the first issue of Life; Eugene Smith, the exemplar of the passionate photo essayist; and the incomparable Dorothea Lange, whose images of real people have inspired me throughout my professional life.”
Photography has been László Bencze’s full-time profession since 1972. During his career he has been commissioned to photograph a copper mine in Papua New Guinea, Wynton Marsalis in concert; a rubber plantation in Malaysia, a chemical plant in Wales, tunnel boring machines, jets performing night landings in Ohio, Bill Gates at home, executives galore, more laboratories and machine shops than he can remember, and above all people, people, and more people. His work has received many awards over the years; his England Sampler, a promotional booklet, amassed a total of 12 awards, including the Nikon award for best promo of the year. One of his images was selected by Kodak to hang at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center in Florida. He has had several one-person shows, including exhibits at The Camerawork Gallery in Portland, Oregon, and at the Gallery at the University of Portland.
László’s website is www.lbencze.com.
László Bencze: Drag Line, Phosphate Mining near Tampa, Florida
László Bencze: Driller, Morencie Mine, Arizona
László Bencze: Exploratory Drilling, Morencie Mine, Arizona
László Bencze: Miner at Potash Mine Face, Esterhazy Mine, Alberta, Canada
László Bencze: Sampling Drillers' Mud, near Beatty Nevada
László Bencze: Truck Repair Shop, Decker Mine, Montana