These Images Show The Tiny Amount Of Metal That Comes From Earth-Destroying Mines

The new series, For What It’s Worth, effectively asks the question: Is the destruction of mining worth the meager result?

Looking at the Kimberly Mine in South Africa, it’s obvious why it’s also known as the Big Hole. The diamond pit, dug by hand by 50,000 miners in the late 1800s, is longer than four football fields, and almost four times deeper than Lake Erie. Less obvious is the total scale of the product that resulted over decades of operation: Three small tubs of stones.


In a new series called For What It’s Worth, photographer Dillon Marsh is taking wide-angle shots of mines across South Africa and pairing them with CGI mockups of the minerals that were actually produced from them. His work effectively raises the question: Was the social and environmental destruction worth the result?

“South Africa is incredibly rich in mineral resources, with the mining industry playing a definitive role in shaping the country’s growth and development after colonization,” says Marsh. “This mineral wealth has, however, come at a great cost . . . It’s this give and take of mineral wealth and social and environmental cost that I found interesting.”

None of the mines in the series are currently in operation, since these were much easier to access. He also wanted to have a final production total, which was easier to achieve for inactive sites.

For each mine, the products are represented as a sphere. “I knew I wanted to keep things simple,” says Marsh. “I always liked the idea of representing the output as a sphere; it’s slightly abstract, affording the images a surreal character, but at the same time it seems a more natural shape than say, a cube or angled figure. The sphere also offers interesting reflections of light and its surroundings.”

Marsh hopes the images help more people question the choices that society makes in mining, and in creating ever-increasing numbers of products from mined components.

“Mineral resources fuel growth and development, of course, but by looking at things from a different angle I hope I can encourage people to think critically about the true costs and benefits,” he says.


About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.