The Cruellest Earth Project
The genesis for this project can be traced to my first visit to Africa in 2006. I was fascinated by the thousands of galamsey (illegal artisanal miners) I saw as I travelled through Ghana. The more I returned to Africa, and the more I studied these miners, the more fascinated I became. They were living a way of life, and using the same primitive tools, that we had been told had disappeared in the 1850s. It was testament to the axiom that the past is the present and the present is the future.
In 2010 I committed to documenting the work and lives of the artisanal miners of the world. A 30 million large segment of the world’s population that mine variously for coal, coltan, copper, diamonds, gemstones, gold, lead, marble, oil, silver, stone, sulphur, tin and zinc, among other commodities. I had no preconceptions of what the project would involve, other than that it would be expensive and difficult. Because I wanted to capture this mining taking place across a diversity of commodities, continents, cultures and topography. So the high mountains as well as the barren deserts and the lush tropics for example.
As the project progressed, the more difficult it became. And if one had the benefit of 2020 hindsight I likely would not have begun. Safety was always a challenge. But also these mining locations incorporate some of the most difficult aspects of humanity. Environmental degradation. People trafficking and slavery. Insurgencies. Conflict minerals. Organised crime. Terrorism. And the most difficult working conditions one could comprehend.
This project is my contribution to the human anthropological record. It is a project that will result in the production of a major global coffee table book and it is a project that will result in a series of exhibitions that will tour through the world's major capital cities. It is my hope that a documentary series will also be made to document the lives and work of the miners.
This project is my interpretation of the lives and stories of 30 million people around the world that all have their own aspirations and dreams. A group of people that most in the developed world have never heard of. People earning often less than US$1 a day and working in some of the most dangerous conditions imaginable. It is a story that needs, in my view, to be told. Because they give us cause to reflect on the direction of our own lives and the serendipity of chance that determines to whom and where we are born.