On the Scene: Plunging into Snow at the Foot of a Volcano - Atlas Obscura
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On the Scene: Plunging into Snow at the Foot of a Volcano

A photographer documents life at a geothermal plant amid 29 active volcanoes.

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(Photo: Elena Chernyshova)

By now, photographer Elena Chernyshova is used to shooting in cold climates. She spent 10 days at the Kupol Gold Mine in Siberia, which is accessible in winter only via an ice road. She’s documented reindeer hunters in the Arctic Circle. And she has traveled to Russia’s Far East Kamchatka Peninsula to photograph the Mutnovskaya Geothermal Power Plant.

The Kamchatka Peninsula is part of the belt of volcanoes around the Pacific Ocean known as the “ring of fire,” which stretches from Chile to New Zealand. Kamchatka has 29 active volcanoes. Four of them erupted on the same day in 2013. It’s an ideal place for Mutnovskaya’s geothermal activity—converting energy from the earth into electricity—despite the hostile winters. In fact, Mutnovskaya generates 30 percent of the energy used by the region. 

In 2014, Chernyshova created a photo series documenting the lives of Mutnovskaya’s geothermal plant workers. “My story was about energy from hot springs and about workers who are maintaining the plant in mountains in 200 km [124 miles] away from the city,” she says. “I was looking for different kind of scenes that represents people daily life.” Chernyshova photographed the workers watching TV, playing checkers—and enjoying the freezing temperatures.

“After work some men go to relax in the pool of hot water,” says Chernyshova. The temperature in the tub is about 104°F (40°C), compared to the air temperature of 1°F (-17°C). “After staying in the hot water they jumped in the snow to refresh themselves. That was logical, it is what people are used to do, but quite spontaneous at the same time.”

It’s a startling juxtaposition, the bare skin in the piles of snow. But, says, Chernyshova, “Russians who live in the Northern region have very particular, tender relations with snow and ice-water. I was really happy to capture this joy.”