Stephen Ferry: I Am Rich Potosi: The Mountain That Eats Men

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The magnificent mountain of Potosí in Bolivia yielded more silver than any other mountain or region of the world. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries this wealth flowed through Spain into Europe and played an important role in the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution and trade with Asia. Yet the grueling work of extracting the silver was left to the indigenous population of the Andes, who were enslaved by the Spanish and died by the thousands on the mountain.

Today, Potosí maintains this unique culture, based on its epic history. Approximately eighteen thousand miners still work in or around the mountain, searching for trace amounts of silver and tin. Inside the mountain, miners worship their devil, who is represented as a sexually potent Spaniard, lord of the mineral realm. Photographer Stephen Ferry has made many trips to Potosí to document this ongoing drama. His color images describe this world, which echoes back to the birth of modern Europe yet is one of the poorest places in the Americas.

The text by Eduardo Galeano illuminates the complexity of the intersection of ancient rituals and the grandeur of the mountain and complements Ferry's powerful portrait of this fascinating area. Ferry's photographs are divided into four sections: the miners' carnival; work that still takes place in and around the rich mountain; major institutions of civic life in the city of Potosí; and the festival of Esprit?, in which miners sacrifice llamas to the devil within the mountain to appease his thirst for blood so that he will not take their lives with accidents or illness.

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