a movie by

Jean-Claude Wicky

While travelling the world, I came to the Altiplano, the cold windy High Plains of Bolivia. Time seems to stand still in this naked savage barren land, home to half of Bolivia's population.
Its sub-soil is rich in silver, gold, tin, lead, tungsten and other metals which are indispensable to industry; minerals which will bring wealth to the few but sorrow to the land.

I spent a day in a mine and came out deeply moved telling myself that I would one day photograph the miners' world.
I had unwittingly entered the country through its most painful door: the mining camps and the mines.
I was moved by their isolation and loneliness, their centuries-old loneliness.

I began my photo project in 1984 and visited Bolivia on a regular basis for 17 years exploring some 30 mining centres throughout the country.
I wanted to portray the lives, sacrifices and dignity of the mining people.

But I hadn't fully realised the extent of the challenge I was about to undertake. How does one photograph humidity, heat or the acrid mineral odour which seeps into the body?
Even more so, how does one photograph the dense obscurity of the mine, a darkness which is more impenetrable than stone and erases any notion of direction, time or distance; obscurity that burns the eye and renders the body invisible
My work on the mines culminated in an exhibition and a book.
After so many years among them, it seemed natural to render back what they had given to me.
I obtained 600 Spanish copies which I sent to Bolivia. I then went to places which are not even on the map, offering these books to those miners I could find but above all to the mining community schools.
Against the extraordinary reactions of these people, I was able to measure how important it is for them to be valued, to be recognized and not to be forgotten. I had envisaged this return as a continuation wich would lead to the end of my adventure with the miners but it is at this moment that the idea and the desire to make a film was born. This would further contribute to the construction of a memory, bringing to light a world wich, up to now, has remained in the shadows.