What All The Metal Extracted From A Single Mine Looks Like

Aug 21, 2014 6 comments

All the metals in your life - from those in your gadgets, to the ring on your finger, to the massive steel bars encased in concrete in the pillars of the apartment you live in – have come from earth. Extracting this from rocks is a mind boggling process, a method that has been discovered thousands of years ago and refined and perfected throughout the history of mining. Typically, ores contain metals in tiny quantities, so to recover just an ounce of the metal a mountain has to be dug up. The visualization of just how much metal a mine can produce is the idea behind the project For What It's Worth.

The project was undertaken by Cape Town photographer Dillon Marsh, whose work we’ve featured once before on Amusing Planet. In For What It’s Worth, Marsh attempts to quantify mining, "an industry that has shaped the history and economy of the country so radically."


Nababeep South Mine, Nababeep (1882 to 2000). Over 500m deep, 302,791.65 tonnes of copper extracted

The photographer took pictures of five famous mines in South Africa, and then using data about extraction rates, calculated the size of a single, solid orb to represent the amount of metal that had been mined in total. Then using a rendering engine and some quick adjustments for scale, Marsh inserted each orb into the landscape.

"Mines speak of a combination of sacrifice and gain," he says. "Their features are crude, unsightly scars on the landscape—unlikely feats of hard labour and specialized engineering, constructed to extract value from the earth but also exacting a price."

In the first of this series, Marsh deals with copper, but he has plans to do the same for precious metal, stones, and even coal.


Blue Mine, Springbok (1852 to 1912).  3,535 tonnes of copper extracted


West O'okiep Mine, Okiep (1862 to the early 1970s). Over 500m deep, 284,000 tonnes of copper extracted


Tweefontein Mine, Concordia (1887 to 1904). Over 100m deep, 38,747.7 tonnes of copper extracted


Jubilee Mine, Concordia (1971 to 1973). Over 100m deep, 6,500 tonnes of copper extracted

via PetaPixel


  1. Without something in these photos to allow you to judge scale, the effect isn't quite as dramatic as the photographer may have hoped.

    1. The last picture gives a little bit of perspective I think, but I totally agree with you. The project had so much more potential!

    2. It seems there are buildings in the third photo...

  2. Copper mines don't just produce copper... sigh.

  3. Yes Patrice , some are full of love...sigh.


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