Of all the ways humans have altered the Earth, mining must be one of the most awesome—just for the sheer ratio of Earth excavated to metals and gems recovered. Still, it's hard to visualize just how much a single mine has netted in numbers, which is why For What It's Worth is so interesting.
This is the project of Dillon Marsh (whom you may remember from this project), a photographer and artist from Cape Town who describes For What It's Worth as an attempt to quantify mining, "an industry that has shaped the history and economy of the country so radically." To start the project, he took photos of five famous mines—the first in South Africa—and then, using data about extraction rates, calculated a single, solid orb to represent the amount of metal that had been mined in total.
Then, using basic rendering and some quick adjustments for scale, Marsh inserted each orb into the landscape of these now-shuttered mines. "Mines speak of a combination of sacrifice and gain," he says. "Their features are crude, unsightly scars on the landscape—unlikely feats of hard labour and specialized engineering, constructed to extract value from the earth but also exacting a price." The following images deal with copper—but Marsh has plans to do the same for precious metal, stones, and even coal.
This mine in Concordia saw work from only 1887 to 1904, but 38,747.7 metric tons of copper were still extracted.
This copper mine operated from 1882 to 2000. Workers ultimately extracted 302,791.65 metric tons.
284,000 metric tons of copper were removed from this mine in Okiep, which operated from 1862 to the early 1970s.
3,535 metric tons of copper were mined here, from 1852 to 1912.
A mine that only operated for two years between 1971 and 1973, this is one of the smaller hauls of the series, with only 6,500 metric tons of copper represented.
See more of Marsh's work here.