‘Mining’ images extract grandeur from earth’s trauma

In photographer David Maisel’s “Mining” collection, damage can be extraordinarily beautiful. The images, which will be soon be on display in San Francisco, show mining activity in the American West and how the land has been altered by the processes and chemicals used.


All images are part of the “Mining” exhibition and are courtesy of David Maisel.


“Mining” consists of photographs from two series by Maisel — “American Mine” and “the Mining Project” — and is being shown at Haines Gallery in San Francisco from September 5 through October 26. The idea for the project can actually be traced back to an earlier series from the 1980s called “Black Maps,” according to Maisel.

The images in “Black Maps” are of mines in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Montana, and with the series, “I first began to consider my pictures not only as documents of blighted sites, but also as poetic renderings that might somehow reflect back the human psyche that made them,” he writes on his website.

While “Black Maps” contained black-and-white images, the continuation of the series, “the Mining Project,” from 1987 to 1989, shifted into larger-scale photographs in color. The current component of the series, “American Mine,” began in 2007 and focuses on open-pit mines along the Carlin Trend, a high-production gold-mining region in Nevada.



While Maisel notes environmental effects of these mines, such as mercury emissions, acid drainage, and the use of cyanide and sulfuric acid to extract metals, he also offers that the series is not meant as a “condemnation of a specific industry.” Instead, the “images are intended as an aesthetic response to such despoiled landscapes.”

“These sites are the contemplative gardens of our time, places that offer the opportunity to reflect on who and what we are collectively, as a society,” he writes.

More information is available at davidmaisel.com.


Nicole is an editor and writer living in San Francisco.

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