For centuries, men have exploited the mineral wealth of the Andes Range. First the Incas, then the Spanish extracted gold and silver, the wealth of empire. Gold, silver and copper are still mined intensively today, but so too are tin, zinc, cadmium and antimony.
Mining in Bolivia began in 1545 when Cerro Rico was discovered, a mountain of silver ore. An economic system started to develop, deposits were exploited and the city of Potosí was born, growing out of the soil with the arrival of the first miners.
Gold production represents 2,2% of the Bolivian economy. Zinc represents 13% and tin represents 5% of the country's economy. These three major products of the Bolivian mining industry were listed among those produced by child labor in the 2014 U.S. Department of Labor's report that included a List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. The DOL has also reported that "children continue to engage [...] in the worst forms of child labor in mining" and that "child labor inspections remain insufficient relative to the scope of the problem.
In 1952, after a revolution, the country's three biggest mining companies were nationalised and the Bolivian Mining Corporation, CoMiBol, was founded.
Mining had profound consequences for indigenous society, severely exploited to provide workers for the mines and refining mills.
Mining in Bolivia has been a dominant feature of the Bolivian economy as well as Bolivian politics since 1557. Colonial era silver mining in Bolivia, particularly in Potosí, played a critical role in the Spanish Empire and the global economy.
The average miner lived in a hut; no bed, no windows, 5 or more family members cramped together. Even as late as 1961, the average lifespan was 25 and infant mortality was at 60%.
The 20th century gave rise to to a new kind of photographer; both social reformer and globe-trotting photojournalist who hunted news stories for the great tabloid empires. Photography had entered an era of unparalleled creativity, propelled in part by sophisticated new picture magazines.