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Photography and drawing that examine environmental, social and economic consequences of current mechanized mining practices in El Chocó
Photography and drawing that examine environmental, social and economic consequences of current mechanized mining practices in El Chocó
Photography and drawing that examine environmental, social and economic consequences of current mechanized mining practices in El Chocó
132 backers pledged $16,137 to help bring this project to life.

About this project

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Gold Mining in El Chocó, Colombia

$16,137

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Our Vision: Mary Kelsey and Steve Cagan, Cleveland area artist and photographer, are developing a project to look at the effects of gold mining in the northwest El Chocó department of Colombia.

Artisanal mining in areas abandoned by machines
Artisanal mining in areas abandoned by machines

Indigenous and Afro-Colombian people of the area have been panning for gold as part of their traditional economy. They planted, hunted, fished, and cut lumber primarily for their own consumption. They also panned for gold part-time to provide cash for the things they did not produce themselves. This type of traditional panning—which still goes on—has barely any environmental impact.

Artisanal sawmilling
Artisanal sawmilling

Increases in the price of gold have brought mechanized mining, which threatens the delicate rain forest environment and its traditional cultures. Scores of large backhoes push aside and discard the thin forest topsoil and open immense pits to search for gold. Tons of silt and rocks, oil and chemicals destroy streams and rivers. Mercury is burned in the open air, contaminating air, soil and water.

Mechanized mining also produces profound social distortions as people abandon traditional activities and take up full-time panning in areas left behind by the machinery.

This project has been endorsed by the Rainforest Committee of the Northeast Ohio Sierra Club.

Residual environmental damage from mechanized mining
Residual environmental damage from mechanized mining

Who We Are: Steve has been photographing in this area of El Chocó for ten years. He has a network of friendships and professional relationships in institutions and communities. Steve’s article on mining will be published this winter in the journal of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard.

Mary has worked as a visual artist in rain forest communities in three countries of Central America, exploring the relationships of people to local environmental issues. She has exhibited and published that work, as well as given illustrated talks on the subject.

We are both past recipients of Fulbright grants for our work.

Guatemala calendar page
Guatemala calendar page

For us as artists, drawing does not start with the pen and pad, nor photography with the camera, but with a commitment to the communities whose situations we are witnessing.

You can learn more about this project and the issues raised by mining at our website www.elchocomining.net. You can learn more about us at our websites; www.stevecagan.com and www.marykelsey.com

Risks and challenges

If we were starting this work without our extensive backgrounds of work in these areas, we might be concerned about our ability to pull such a project off. But our experience in this area and our relationships with the communities give us confidence. Although there might be a concern about working in an area where there is violence of the Colombian civil conflict, Steve has worked closely with the Catholic diocese and communities, and they are very careful to let us know where we can NOT go.

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $25 or more About $25

    Everyone who makes a donation of $25 or more will be invited to a private blog in which we will make entries describing progress in the project and giving some initial images.

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    Pledge $40 or more About $40

    For a donation of $40, you will also receive a set of four 4x6 inch cards with prints of two photographs and two drawings drawn from our work in El Chocó.

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    Pledge $75 or more About $75

    For a donation of at least $75, you can choose one archival unmatted print of a drawing or photograph. Size of the image will be approximately 6x9 inches. You will be provided a list of images from which to choose your reward.

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    Pledge $150 or more About $150

    The first 100 people who donate at least $150 may choose a print of a drawing or photograph from the same list, about 8x12 inches which will be matted along with a short text drawn from the things the miners tell us, on a 17x22 sheet and in a 17x22 mat.

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    After 100 people, the same reward will be offered to people who donate $200.

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    Pledge $250 or more About $250

    The first 100 people who donate at least $250 may choose a PAIR—one drawing and one photograph—from a list of pairings, which will both be matted along with short texts.

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    Pledge $300 or more About $300

    After the first 100 people, the same reward will be offered to anyone who donates $300.

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Funding period

- (40 days)