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Changing Mines in America

For nearly twenty years, I have been using photography as a tool for documenting the evolving landscape. Ranging from asking the question, "…what happens when you place a line upon the landscape?…" (such as a boundary line) to questioning the cultural construction of nature (Humanature, Center for Documentary Studies, University of Texas Press, 1992), this work has resulted in four award-winning publications complemented by numerous articles and museum exhibits, both nationally and internationally.

This project, Changing Mines in America, is a collaboration with a landscape historian, C. Elizabeth Raymond. Together, we are examining the visual and cultural legacy of mining landscapes throughout the United States. We also are examining the history of attitudes toward these "waste places," where technology has transformed the landscape to such an extent that--as one mining engineer puts it--"man has now become a geologic force in himself." [Bennett]. We consider these selected sites as physical artifacts, with a history of development and change over time; but also as cultural constructions, with a corresponding history of changing and contested interpretations. The selected sites include:

Rawhide, Nevada: Explores the irony of a location that became nationally famous in 1908 for its intoxicating boom town atmosphere and its much touted potential for wealth; but produced no real value for nearly 80 years.

American Flat, Nevada: Visualizes the "physical graffiti" of a 1920s sodium-cyanide mill within the Comstock, where a vibrant culture of graffiti artists, paint-ball enthusiasts, performance artists, and teenage rebels have brought unanticipated uses to a crumbling concrete mine site.

Eagle Mountain, California: Surrounded by Joshua Tree National Park in the Mohave Desert, this site, a former iron mine, is being contested as a solid waste disposal site for southern California refuse.

Bingham Canyon, Utah: The time scale of reclamation activities is beyond human scale as this enormous mine pit consumes nearby communities.

Karnes County, Texas: Uranium mining sites within this county are currently undergoing reclamation and restoration with little visible evidence of mining history, except for radioactive markers. Serious issues of long-term toxicity have been raised.

Mesabi Iron Range, Minnesota: The Mesabi Iron Range was a massive mining range that proved to be the making of the U.S. steel industry. This site embodies the evolution of reclamation and mining tourism, including the theme park, "Iron World."

Butte, Montana: Our work at this site focuses on the Radon Baths, which are old Montana Mine shafts furnished as radioactive health spas. Montana's "health mines" have given new viability and a different kind of vitality to mines that were played out; but the irony of upholstered furniture and reading lamps in former industrial work spaces is inescapable.

Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania: One of three anthracite coal fields in northeastern Pennsylvania, Wyoming Valley's residents, mostly the descendants of immigrant coal miners, live in a landscape that is entirely an artifact of mining. Here the residents' sense of place has been formed by the landscape and the culture of mining.

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