I want to do a photo documentary project about the miners of Cerro Rico, in Potosi, Bolivia. It's a beautiful and terrifying place that has, according to lore, yielded enough silver to build a silver bridge from Bolivia to Spain. In reality, it does not fall too short of that claim - it was the biggest silver mine in the world and has been mined continuously for over 500 years.
In 2006, I turned in my undergraduate environmental science thesis predicting certain doom for the communities that live around the mine in Potosi. One of my sources predicted that the mine, functioning continuously since 1542, will finally be depleted in 10 years. In October of 2009, a section of the mountain was closed off because surveyors feared it would collapse on itself; it had been hollowed out to such an extent and with disregard for any planning that it could not, they feared, support the weight of the remaining rock. The mountain - an entire mountain! - has sunk 2 meters because so much of its innerds have been mined out.
I think now is a good time for this project because the mineral is actively becoming depleted, the mountain is feared to collapse, there are political changes that could affect the mining culture currently in place and there are two big foreign companies that have recently started their operations and could also affect how the mine is exploited and how its workers toil. Cerro Rico has had a HUGE role in Europe's (especially Spain's) development and now big changes are afoot for it. I'd like to document these changes. I fear, too, that these aren't only changes but the grinding to a halt of a city and a culture (of mining). Considering that their silver helped make Europe, I think it's important to capture what could be one of the last generations to go into the Cerro Rico. Though Potosi is not on many people's radar now, it was not always so.
I speak Spanish and have an invitation from a mining co-op to start this project. I want to take documentary photos as well as setup formal portrait sessions with miners and community members. In addition, I want to purchase old photos in the city (sold in antique shops) and display them with my images, to help give historical context.
- Used to be the biggest, most populous city in the world
- Is the highest city in the world at 13,420 feet (I think this can change depending on the definition of "city" used)
- "Worth a Potosi" was a popular expression that meant something was worth A LOT. Now commonly referred to as "The mountain that eats men."
- More than 8 million people have died in Cerro RIco
- Used to be the richest city in the world.
- Women are generally not allowed in the mines, unless they are outsiders to the community
- Rampant child labor in the mine is a big problem
- Shafts are not planned - people dig and blow stuff up willy nilly
- There is a tourist industry surrounding the mine that brings tourists into working mines
I will use the money for airfare, film, processing, and any expenses while in Bolivia. I've applied for grants to expand the project, including to start a camera distribution, as well. My posted goal is the minimum to get started, but the more I raise the more comprehensive I can make the project and the longer I can stay to shoot!
You can read about the project in more detail here: http://phillycrow.blogspot.com/2010/01/help-fund-potosi-bolivia-miners-5.html and see my photos here: http://www.phillycrow.com
Thanks so much for looking and I look forward to sending you prints and souvenirs!
- (68 days)