19 September 2006

Rebecca Solnit on Mercury & Gold

Serra Pelada is a massive gold mine in the Amazon region of Brazil that has been a subject for a number of photographers. Perhaps the most famous of these is Sebastiao Salgado, himself Brazilian, who included many images like these in his Workers project as a way of showing how gold, mixed with dirt made its way from the bottom of the mine pit to the ridge of the mine on the backs of laborers. The pictures really are quite astounding.

Serra Pelada gold mine, State of Pará, Brazil, 1986. [All three images © Sebastiao Salgado]

But Salgado was not alone in taking Serra Pelado as a subject. So too did Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar who produced images like these:

Gold in the morning, 1985. [All three images © Alfredo Jaar]

Both Salgado and Jaar clearly focus on the human dimensions of this extractive process. But gold mining has begun to come under increasing scrutiny as a very dirty business in environmental terms. In its contemporary forms is uses large quantities of cyanide to leach the gold out of the soils that contain it. This evening I discovered a new essay by Rebecca Solnit, an activist and writer whose praises I have sung numerous times [1] [2] [3] [4] in the past. She is an extremely provocative thinker and writer. So, her essay is entitled "Winged Mercury & the Golden Calf" and it appears in Orion Magazine.

Pretty much anything Solnit writes is worth reading, I think. Here she is talking about the use of mercury in the process of extracting gold in the United States. And, of course, like cyanide, mercury is highly toxic. One question this raises is how one might use photography to depict the environmental degradation caused by such poisonous practices. I am sure some photographers must have attempted this; I simply don't know of any. Suggestions?

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Blogger Aric Mayer said...

David Maisel's The Mining Project is one that addresses mining pollution from the perspective of the landscape.


16 March, 2007 08:43  

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