/ Will Berridge / Photo story

The Tale of the Copper Town

Day and night freight trains depart the town of Alaverdi in Northern Armenia with a cargo of pure copper and slowly make their way across the nearby Georgian border and onwards to Russia; taking with them any hope that the people of this town – with a history of copper production stretching back 230 years – have of economic survival.

At the peak of Soviet Armenia almost 50,000 tons of copper were produced in Alaverdi. Now the once prosperous Vallex copper factory is in a state of rapid decline, from employing 3,000 men at its peak, there are now only 250 employees left. Facing a declining population, a lack of opportunities, unemployment at an incredible 60% and serious health problems, including abnormally high levels of cancer, cases of birth defects including hydrocephaly and anencephaly – all due to the constant stream of pollution and smoke pumped into the air from the factory – Alaverdi faces many challenges to survive in the post Soviet era.

For The Tale of the Copper Town I wanted to photograph the fragments of what remain, the people who live beneath the smoke, and discover what future is there for the copper town of Alaverdi.

Will Berridge (1975) is a recent graduate of the University of Westminster with an MA in photojournalism. He is focusing on projects that reflect on current and past cultural and social issues, particularly in the South Caucasus region.