The Mines of Serra Pelada

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Sebastião Salgado is possibly the most famous and eminent photojournalist working today. He embarks on great photographic projects, seeking out places that are untouched by modern humanity and exposing the inhumanities it left behind. If there is one Salgado picture that will stand the test of time, it is this picture of a dispute between Serra Pelada gold mine worker and military police taken in Brazil in 1986. It is the classic picture of tension with a twist–the authority is in the hands of the police on the right, but he earns much less than the miners thus infusing that facet of tension into the picture too.

The tale of Serra Pelada was straight out of the great 19th century gold rushes of Australia and the American west. A 6g nugget of gold, found by a local bathing his child on the banks of a remote river, started an uncontrolled gold rush that turned the place into a modern day Inferno. In five years, tens of thousands of men swarmed the site in a huge goldstrike worth more than the annual output of all Australian gold mines combined. Salgado not only documented a lengthy photoessay about Serra Pelada but also the nearby town of “stores and whores”,  where tens of thousands of girls under the age of 16 sold their bodies for a few grains of gold. It is also said there are 60-80 unsolved murders in the town every month.