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Documentary Photography: Gloves and Handbags, the beauty and the beast

The beauty and the beast…next time you put on your gloves or wearing your handbag,
think about how it got to this beautiful nice and shiny stage.…


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2017 © Gunther Deichmann
Not at all that glamorous when you look behind the scenes in the production
of high end leather products.

It looks all very different in the beginning; these products are not that glamorous and shinny, they require hard work, produced under harsh and extremely smelly conditions.
It was during one of my recent visits to India that I managed to get access to some Leather Tannery’s near Kolkata and getting access was not an easy task.
The main production of these Tannery’s is for leather gloves and handbags destined for the European Market.

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2017 © Gunther Deichmann
Unloading the huge wooden drums, Leather Tannery, India


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2017 © Gunther Deichmann
Preparing the Hides for the next process, India

Upon entering the first Tannery the smell was absolute out of this world and it was extremely difficult getting used to it not to mention the place was dark like a dungeon.

Trying to keep a low profile I only tagged along one camera body and two lenses besides flash/strobe was not allowed anyway. No choice I had to crank up the ISO at times to 1600 on my Lumix GX8 and worked mostly with the fast 20mm1.4mm (equip. 40mm) and my trusted 12 to 35 mm f: 2.8 (equiv. 24 to 70mm) lens.

Workers tend to the huge wooden drums where the row hides tumble in a bluish bath of chromium sulfate and other chemicals. This chemical mix spills all over the floors and the walls, exposing also the workers.

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2017 © Gunther Deichmann
Squeezing the hides using old machineries, India

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2017 © Gunther Deichmann
Spraying a chemical mixture, a type of repellant on to the Hides, India

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2017 © Gunther Deichmann
Barefoot… water and chemicals, India

In some other areas man spraying a chemical mixture, a type off repellant on to the hides, or squeezing the hides through old machines.
Without going into a more detailed description of the whole process the hides once dried (normally on the flat rooftop) they are sorted and made ready for shipment for the final production for many types of leather products. Workers carrying some 75 kg on their back unloading the Rawhide or the tanned finished leather sheets.

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2017 © Gunther Deichmann
Carrying 75kg of processed Hides, India

After leaving the Tannery Complex we ventured to an area where the leftover leather pieces are cooked/boiled in very large stone basins and once this process is completed it will be mixed with soil and used as an organic fertilizer.

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2017 © Gunther Deichmann
Boiling the leftovers near the Tannery, India

How many chemicals remain after this process is a good question; I am not convinced it is all clean after all the boiling
but in the process also
toxic smoke billows into the air, polluting our environment.
The small stream near this area certainly did not look inviting for a swim, I wouldn’t dare to stick my toe into it either.

I shall continue my quest and search for the production of beauty products and the impact it has on our environment.
GD

More Images from the Tannery in India at my PhotoShelter Archives

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