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The real Providence underground

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You've heard about this underground. Now it's time for the real thing. In this week's Phoenix, Greg Cook writes about the unexpected world that Peter Goldberg found in Providence's combined overflow sewer project.

The steely, gritty black and white photos that he's printed in his studio show silhouetted men walking toward bright lights at the end of tunnels, a couple workers hanging out in a makeshift underground lounge, a bearded driver of a boxy mine train snaking down the dark tunnel, a man wading in the water licking the top of the tracks.

One picture shows a man wearing headphones at the controls of the boring machine, which resembles the cab of an old locomotive. Another shot shows pipes and cables and train tracks running down a tunnel, which brings to mind one of those endless shafts that turn up again and again in the Star Wars films.

But it's mostly another long time ago that they recall. The images follow in the footsteps of Lewis Hine's photos of sooty young coal breakers in the first decade of the 20th-century and ironworkers constructing New York's Empire State Building in the 1930s, Margaret Bourke-White's photos of factory laborers in the 1930s, W. Eugene Smith's photos of Pittsburgh steelworkers in the 1950s, and Sebastião Salgado's photos of miners and oil workers and tea pickers in the '80s and '90s. Flinty (and often downtrodden) workers are a stable of photojournalism.

"This is the same kind of work still going on," Goldberg says. "This is how you dig tunnels. I was really surprised to see that."

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