Inside a 300 ft crater located in the Karakum desert of northern Turkmenistan, a storm of flames emerge as photographer Avery Danziger stands at the edge of the crater to visually record the natural phenomenon. The crater has been nicknamed “The Door to Hell,” or “The Gates to Hell,” by the locals, attracting hundreds of tourists annually that has generated thousands of photo's of the location on the internet. Danziger's latest photo essay is entitled "Gates of Hell", unveiling at the White Gallery which is open to the public through November 30th.
Daniziger has spent over year solely dedicated to planning his expedition before actually setting out on foot. The 6,000 mile journey began with a seventeen hour flight to Turkemenistan, followed by a six hour ride in a Land Rover through the Karakum desert, in order to arrive to this specific destination.
Through photography Danziger draws attention on a natural disaster that often goes undocumented in main stream media. Although Danziger displays the aesthetics of the enflamed crater, his photo's simultaneously build awareness on the environmental concerns by the viewer.
“The Gate to Hell” evolved in 1971 when the republic was still part of the Soviet Union. A group of Soviet geologists went to the Karakum desert in search of oil fields. Geologists stumbled upon what they thought would be a substantial oil field, and began to drill. Unfortunately, what the scientists were unaware of, was that they were drilling on a cavernous pocket of natural gas that was unable to withstand their weight of the equipment. Ultimately the site collapsed, and creating a domino affect that opened several of craters.
The disaster is a visually intriguing event that has raised environmental concerns. The natural gas escaping from the crater has caused much of the wildlife adjacent to the crater to die after the accident. The escaping methane simultaneously poses dangers due to it’s flammability— as it only takes five percent methane in the air for an explosion to take place, therefore scientists lit the crater on fire, hoping all dangerous gas would burn away.
In the oil and natural gas operations, this is not uncommon. Unlike oil, which can be stored in a tank after drilling indefinitely, natural gas needs to be immediately processed— and if there’s an excess of natural gas that can’t be piped to a processing facility, drillers often burn the natural gas as a way to get rid of it. The process referred to as “flaring.”
What was intended to be a few week burn has lasted almost a half-century. In 2010 Turkmenistan president Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov feared that the fire would threaten the country’s ability to develop in nearby gas fields, and ordered the local authorities to come up with a plan to fill the crater. No action have been taken.
Aside from the arising contemporary environmental concerns Danziger’s photographs are not documentary in nature. Instead Danziger’s photo’s clearly reflect that the photographer set out on his journey as artist. All photo’s capture the breath taking beauty of the desert that stretches out for miles, as the land remains uninhabited by most life forms. The land and the sky run smoothly in unison while the crater provides a surge of light to peek out from underground.
Discovering treasure’s that are hidden to the eye is what Danziger inspires to do with his photographs. This series of eye-catching photos enable to viewer to find meaning in the environmental chaos. The photo’s are shot at all times of the day— allowing viewers to visualize the beauty of the region during all moments. Whether Danziger stands in front of the crater, or from afar, each photo successfully captures the unforgettable image of the golden aura of flames emerging from the ground. Around a dozen of the 1,500 photo's taken of the phenomenon were chosen for the final cut of Danziger’s exhibition.