The Koffiefontein mine in South Africa, which has produced 7.6 million carats of diamonds. (Image by Dillon Marsh).
“Whether they are active or long dormant, mines speak of a combination of sacrifice and gain.” These are the opening lines of the virtual expo For What It’s Worth, by South African photographer Dillon Marsh.
Throughout his personal site/gallery, Marsh explores what he calls “the tenuous relationship” between humans and the natural environment. One way in which he presents such interaction is by pointing his lens toward some of South Africa’s most famous mines, whether that glory is the product of hosting a world-class deposit or whether some dramatic events have taken place there.
The artist also introduces computer-generated imagery into some of his photos to reveal underlying features or dynamics that, in his view, can’t be illustrated with photography alone.
“The CGI objects represent scale models of the materials removed from the ground. By doing so, the intention is to create a kind of visualisation of the merits and shortfalls of this industry that has shaped the history and economy of the country so radically,” Marsh writes.
When it comes to diamonds, the photographer explains that following a fortuitous find in the Northern Cape province in 1867, the news of diamond-bearing pipes in the area quickly spread out, eventually creating the backbone for towns like Kimberley.
For him, the immense scale of the open-pit mines and the relatively low yield associated with diamond mining make for a dramatic visual comparison.
Moving onto gold, Marsh used CGI to represent the total amount extracted from each of the seven gold fields in the Witwatersrand Basin, an area that hosts the world’s largest gold deposit.
For the platinum group metals, the photographer decided to capture the Marikana platinum mine area, now owned by Sibanye-Stillwater but which rose to the spotlight in 2012 when it was in the hands of its previous owner Lonmin. The reasons for its sudden fame were, however, rather negative, as the mine site saw police opening fire on a group of striking mineworkers, killing 34 people and injuring 78 others.
“Against this backdrop, I’ve placed the total national output of all six of the platinum group metals since mining operations began in 1924,” Marsh points out.