A photographer from Cape Town has depicted mining excavations and the scarred landscapes they leave behind through his art.

When Dillon Marsh discovered commercial copper mines near Springbok, South Africa, he wanted to depict the cost of mining excavation in his work.

Marsh is a photographer who studies the relationship between humanity and the natural environment and “how we as a species engage both deliberately and unintentionally with our environment”.

Free State Gold Fields, 335 million troy ounces of gold

“The first of these mines was created in 1852, and at the time the digging was done by hand. The mined copper ore was then transported by ox wagons to the coast 140 kilometers away, and from there it was shipped to England for processing,” Marsh told Colossal Magazine.

136 million troy ounces of platinum

Today, excavation is more efficient mechanically, but harmful to the environment. The mining of precious metals generally has extreme adverse effects on the natural environment. The impacts on air, water and soil are often irrevocable, not to mention the defilement of ancient unceded lands. The necessity of the extraction of mineral deposits in modern development excludes these practices as necessary evils.

13 million troy ounces of rhodium

In Marsh’s CGI photographic series, For what it’s worth, he fixes metallic orbs – symbolic of materials mined from the earth – in abandoned excavation sites. Marsh explicitly redirects these mineral deposits to the environments from which they originated.

Centry Rand Gold Field, 250 million troy ounces of gold

Marsh places the question of gain versus loss at the epicenter of his multimedia photography. It highlights the capitalist drive to prioritize precious metals above natural preservation.

3 million troy ounces of osmium

“My feelings constantly and quickly fluctuated between a feeling of admiration for what has been won and a feeling of sadness for what it has cost,” Marsh said.

O’Okiep mine, 284,000 tonnes of copper

In one image, Marsh shows a copper orb weighing 284,000 tons, its pristine surface towering above the natural surroundings like an ancient figure from another world – a precious gift abandoned from the earth. The Palabora Mine is home to another copper orb that weighs a whopping 4.1 million tons; it sits in a huge excavation which makes it look relatively small.

Palabora mine, 4.1 million tonnes of copper

Perhaps most striking is a 7.6 million carat diamond sphere, gleaming but barely visible from inside an abandoned goliath-sized excavation.

Koffiefontein mine, 7.6 million carats of diamonds

Dillon Marsh bravely portrays humanity’s dependence on earth’s resources as childish, greedy, selfish, and ultimately an intimate betrayal of our own self-interest.

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