A tenuous reconciliation between industry and environmental preservation hangs in the balance with shifting political ideologies. National parks now have an uncertain future as mining encroaches on their borders. Arizona and Utah have historically been important producers of minerals including copper and silver. As national job security becomes increasingly a political talking point, mining and mineral extraction as an industry becomes part of the national identity. But what do we stand to lose? Government subsidies on hard rock mining, such as gold, silver, copper, uranium, and platinum, encourage mining operations that would otherwise be economically impracticable. The mining operations often leave the land badly scarred, lakes and rivers polluted, and have years of hazardous waste clean up that costs billions of dollars. As China is the world’s largest consumer of copper the price and industry depends on their economic outlook. As there is already a glut of copper on the market this doesn’t bode well for the economic viability of hard rock mining, as silver, platinum, and gold are often by-products of copper and uranium mining. Despite this and the fact that many US mines are older and have high running costs the government still deemed it important to roll back protections that prevent mining, drilling, and logging on public protected land. Not only is the financial cost high but also the cultural and environmental cost to lose the pristine lands the national parks encompass.
Now that the executive order has been passed, Bear's Ears National Monument has been reduced by 80% and Grand Staircase Escalante by 45%. Interestingly enough a large uranium mine sits at the edge of the previous Bear's Ears boundary with speculation that there is significant uranium within the old boundary lines. Now that the monument has been reduced the uranium deposit is outside of the boundaries. Energy Fuel Resources, a Canadian uranium firm, lobbied the US government to change the boundaries of Bear's Ears as they own the mine that sits on the edge. They also own a partially finished uranium mine on the south rim of the Grand Canyon beside the only water supply of the Havasupai people who live within the Grand Canyon. This mine continues to be developed based off of environmental studies done in the 1980s despite it being known there is significant ground water pollution and radioactive dust that spreads far beyond uranium mine sites. This water source next to the future uranium mine leads into the Colorado River which supplies drinking water for 40 million people.
My intent with this project is to juxtapose images of Arizona and Utah’s national parks on silver and copper metal leaf to highlight the balance between industry, mining, and environment. Both content and process are taken into account with this series. Arizona and Utah are the top two copper producing states in the US and have abundant mineral resources that have yet to be exploited. They also have some of the most unique and intriguing national parks. These protected areas are some of the oldest unaltered landscapes within the US and have a distinct geology.
Polaroid emulsion lifts are created by using integral Polaroid film and separating the emulsion from the plastic front and the chemically impregnated rear of the film. The emulsion layer is floated off in water and transferred to a different medium. This process is exceedingly delicate as the emulsion layer is very thin and prone to damage.