Michal Sierakowski is one of the 50 best emerging photographers for 2015, as voted by the eight-member international jury for the LensCulture Emerging Talent Awards 2015. Here is his winning entry and artist’s statement. View his profile to learn more about him and to see more of his great work.

For thousands of years, people have been digging in search of the most precious materials that the Sudetes mountains could give them: marble, gold, coal, copper, brimstone, lead, pyrite, opal, nickel. Across the mountain range, rich mining cities rose and fell—some fell to the ground while others even collapsed into the earth itself.

One of the last mining chapters in the history of the Sudetes took place in the 1950s. It was also one of the most tragic. It occurred when the Soviets discovered uranium ore deposits in old German-built shafts. Driven crazy by Stalin’s obsession to produce a nuclear bomb, the Soviets began to overexploit the old mines (as well as the local miners).

Thanks to the zealous pace of uranium extraction (combined with its great secrecy), there are dozens of people who were buried in shafts, murdered by the secret police. Meanwhile, a generation of miners was decimated by cancer—as a result of overexposure—and an array of mining accidents. During and after that period, entire villages ceased to exist. Meanwhile, most dramatically, an entire city was swallowed by the improperly dug mining operations underneath.

Nowadays, the latest mining boom has come to an end. The coal industry was shut down in the 1990s, resulting in high unemployment and widespread poverty. Across the landscape, thousands of shafts, pits and caves can be found in the forests and the fields.

These forgotten troves light up the imagination and serve as the source of hundreds of stories, legends and local rumours. The populace has not forgotten their mines—to this day, they speak of both the horrors and treasures lying deep underneath the Sudetes.

—Michal Sierakowski