MINING AND EXODUS IN THE ATACAMA DESERT
This long-term visual investigation portrays the relationship that exists between extractive mining processes and the social and cultural displacements that occur.
For almost two centuries, the Atacama Desert has been a constant source of mineral resource extraction. The “Nitrate Offices” have left the mark of an era of riches and bad practices. Today the situation is repeated as an exact cycle: what was nitrate passed to copper and today it turns to lithium, among other minor activities. All this is part of a legislative context lacking extractive regulations by Chile. It is in this context, where the “water rights” are sold to large mining companies, which ultimately determine how much water is left for the communities and towns adjacent to the mining company.
Due to the lack of opportunities in agriculture, the inhabitants of the mountains of the Chilean and Bolivian Altiplano (mountains) have been forced to go down to the cities in search of employment opportunities being one of the main sources of mining work. In this way, a vicious circle is formed that has already alarmed the inhabitants and organizations that have wanted to recover their lands and waters through real legal battles against large mining companies.
This photographic investigation seeks to portray the imaginary of this desert as a mere place of extraction evidencing intangible elements such as loneliness, distance, abandonment, ambition and waste. In this way, the intention is to create a document that invites reflection on extractive practices and the current model in Chile with the aim of contributing to the appreciation of the rural territory and its culture.
This long- Term Project portrays the footprints of an age of productivity and mining in the driest desert of the world, the Atacama Desert in Chile.
In the XIX century saltpetre produced such extreme wealth that whole cities were built around this activity, and today, these are completely abandoned. Nowadays, it looks like history repeats itself. Copper, “the salary of Chile”, is an exhaustible resource and the whole nation and northern cities depend on it to persist.
Moreover, mining has had significant negative impacts on the northern communities and the environment, since copper, lithium and borax, settle in rich biodiversity areas and its residues are allocated near towns and in ravines polluting air and water.
In consequence, villagers are moving from the Altiplano mountains to the cities looking for opportunities abandoning their culture and lands.
Mining has brought economic wealth to some, and ills and displacement to others.
This visual essay illustrates the vision that has ruled over extractive activities in the Chilean territory, where the last end obeys the market without considering cultural local agents and the sustainability of a society in the future.