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Industrial Materials

Mining California

When I began photographing California’s sprawling network of mines, pits, quarries and materials-processing plants in the early days of the new millennium, I was drawn to the landscapes by their terraformed brutalism, which seemed at odds with the California imaginary. The denuded terrain felt almost Martian, the immense machinery deployed to mine it like the temples of a colonizing civilization that abandoned the effort for being too backbreaking.

The deeper I dug, though, the more I came to see how essentially Californian these strange landscapes were: the incalculable volume of minerals extracted from our mountaintops and riverbeds paved the way for California’s growth.

Detritus washed downriver by hydraulic gold mining operations in the 1850s was used to build San Francisco. Limestone mined in Tehachapi provided the raw material for the Los Angeles Aqueduct. Mt. Slover in Colton—once the tallest mountain in San Bernardino County and now a whitish-grey lump of rock—was transformed into many of the freeways, highrises and suburbs that today are icons of Southern California and the new American West.

If writers of California have spilled volumes of ink trying to pin down the elusive nature of the "California spirit," Industrial Materials contends that the key to understanding California’s exquisite physicality probably lies somewhere in a pile of unassuming white boulders blasted out of a mountain of limestone.