Stephen and Elizabeth Ferry have produced La Batea, exploring gold’s double effects – situations of violence, contamination, and exploitation, but also of devotion, craftsmanship, and anchored communities. By taking this rounded approach, La Batea aims to contribute to the global debate over the social, political and environmental impacts of gold mining.
The title La Batea comes from the Spanish word for the wooden pan used by artisanal miners to separate gold from the surrounding earth and rock. The technique of working with a batea entails close engagement with the material of gold itself, something we aim to replicate in our photographs, writings, and in the book’s design.
The graininess of Stephen’s film, along with the material and construction of the book, work to create a marked sense of texture. A spot of real gold leaf on the cover further materializes the subject matter. With this emphasis on tactile experience, La Batea bends the traditional genres of documentary photography and anthropological writing.
Since the late 1980s, Stephen Ferry has traveled to dozens of countries, covering social and political change, human rights, and the environment, on assignment for publications such as National Geographic, GEO, TIME and the New York Times. Stephen’s first book, I Am Rich Potosí: The Mountain that Eats Men (Monacelli Press, 1999), documents the lives of the Quechua miners of Potosí, Bolivia. His second book Violentology: A Manual of the Colombian Conflict (Umbrage, 2012) has become a referential work for the study of Colombian history, armed conflict and human rights. Stephen has won honors from the World Press Photo, Picture of the Year, and Best of Photojournalism contests. He has also received grants from the National Geographic Expeditions Council, the Fund for Investigative Journalism, the Alicia Patterson Foundation, the Howard Chapnick Fund, the Knight International Press Fellowship, the Getty Images Grant for Good, Open Society Foundations and the Magnum Foundation.
Elizabeth Ferry is Professor of Anthropology at Brandeis University, with interests in value, materiality, mining, and finance, and with fieldwork emphases in Mexico, Colombia, and the United States. Her first book, Not Ours Alone: Patrimony, Value and Collectivity in Contemporary Mexico (Columbia, 2005), traces the uses of a concept of patrimony as inalienable possession among members of a silver mining cooperative in the midst of the neoliberal transition in 1990s Mexico. Her second book, Minerals, Collecting and Value across the U.S.-Mexican Border (Indiana, 2013) looks at value-making practices through the travels of mineral specimens from Mexican mines to museums and collections in Mexico and the United States. She is also the author of numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals and the editor, with Mandana Limbert, of Timely Assets: the Politics of Resources and their Temporalities (SAR Press, 2008). She is currently writing a book on gold as a physical object in mining and finance.
Moderated by Kirsten Weld, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences, Harvard University