BY: JONAS WRESCH
The sun begins to rise and a silver light begins to illuminate the terracotta rooftops of the city of Potosi, Bolivia. It is 5 a.m. Thousands of men, women and children make their way up narrow roads towards the peak that looms over the city. In the depths of the Cerro Rico Mountain run veins of precious metals that once bankrolled the Spanish Empire. What used to be the world’s largest deposit of silver was mined by Quechua laborers, who were forced to work under such unbearable conditions that Cerra Rico was nicknamed “The Mountain That Eats Man.”
The sides of the mountain are scarred with sinkholes, which indicate the over-mined and depleted veins that can expand and collapse with no warning. Yet these symbols of danger do nothing to deter miners who depend on the mountain to make their daily bread. In the wake of the fathers early death due to a mining accident, Maxima works over 168 hours per week guarding the mines of Cerra Rico. Her youngest child is seven years old who, to scrape some extra money together, sometimes enters the mines to move rocks and clear paths for carts. They risk explosions, poisonous gas, cave-ins, lung disease and even molestation at the hands of drunken miners to support themselves.
In the series Potosi’s Little Guards, photographer Jonas Wresch documents the broken nights of Maxima, who after countless hours of back-breaking work returns home to huddle in the warmth of her three children Paul, Isreal, and Yoddy. These photos show how economic failure can burden children with a weighty sense of responsibility. Their hands may be calloused but their eyes still remain tender.
As I look at Yoddy and her brothers lie in bed, where under the mattress mining drills are being stored, I cannot help but wonder if these children are growing up too fast.