Andrey Gordasevich & Nils Krauer


Behind the scene of gold mining in Madre de Dios, Peru
"Quickgold" is a story about the origin of gold as a symbol of wealth and its connection to human labor, condition and identity. It is based on daily life of people involved in gold mining and processing in Peruvian jungle in Madre de Dios province, but it also has a broader meaning. The word "quickgold" is a derivative from "quicksilver", or mercury, used in gold processing.

"Quickgold" project united a Russian photographer Andrey Gordasevich and a Swiss sociologist Nils Krauer.
The photos do not reflect the objective reality, the texts do not describe the environment. ...The photographer is only an envelope for the eye watching.
Julio del Valle, Professor at the PUCP, Peru
Gold mining panorama, Rio Pukiri region
Gold which we all know in shape of high-tech and costly objects comes from ordinarily looking soil and gets its shine virtually shaking off the mud — all with the help of bare hands. Artisanal and small scale miners produce up to 20% of the worldwide gold volume, but this type of mining creates 90% of jobs in the industry for more than 100 million people. Small-scale miners are often poverty driven and characterized by high level of marginalization. Working in an informal or illegal mine gives them an opportunity to earn more money. However, uncontrolled exploitation of mineral resources often leads to social and environmental hazards.
Behind the scene of gold production we trace the lives of miners, their stories and beliefs, trying to stay away from condemnation or justification and suggesting that behind the gold production process there is a human life, worthwhile to observe and understand.
Uncle Coca (72) is working as artisanal miner since the age of 16, his hands are suffering from arthritis
The imprint the gold mining leaves on nature and people is caused by human hands, whose prints can also define a person's identity. The other identity question concerns the Inca heritage of Peru with its cult role of the gold. In "Quickgold" the Inca roots are not conventionally traced through remains of the Inca culture, but rather examining the continuity of nature and human faces.
End of working day in Rio Pukiri: miners shaking out the rugs and gathering gold containing sand
End of working day in Rio Pukiri: miners shaking out the rugs and gathering gold containing sand
Consciously or not, contemporary miners are continuing to exploit the same ground as centuries ago. Though in some regions of Peru the Inca heritage got marginalized due to expansion of Catholic Church after the Spanish conquistadors, the gold mine camps in Madre de Dios are still strongly influenced by the pre-colonial cultures. The majority of workers here are migrants from the mountain regions of Cuzco and Puno, the former centers of Inca culture, so their beliefs mix Inca tradition with Catholicism and coexist in a way of syncretism.
100 days of indulgence amulet, Peru, 1877
In all the emperor's houses there were gardens where the Inca would rest. All manner of beautiful trees and plants grew there, and there were life-size models of them with fruits and flowers made of gold and silver. There were entire life-size cornfields of gold and silver, complete with leaves, ears and stalks, with roots and flowers. There were also gold and silver animals, big and small: rabbits, mice, lizards, snakes, butterflies, foxes and wild cats, as they had no domestic cats. There were all kinds of birds, some of them sitting in the branches as if they were singing, others drinking nectar from flowers. There were deer, lions and tigers, and all other animals, each of them positioned to look as natural as possible. Among this splendor were life-size piles of fire-wood made of gold and silver.

Inca Garcilaso de la Vega
(1539 - 1616)
Comentarios Reales de los Incas

Peruvians call their country pais minero, “the mining country". Gold mining and processing are the foundation of life in Madre de Dios province. In its rivers gold is found in small particles which freed from the rocks up in the Andes as a part of natural decay. Differently from gold veins in the mountains, where you have to extract gold from rocks, the river soil is washed with water and separated into stones and gold containing sand known as arenilla.
Miners taking rugs off the drag, Madre de Dios region
To extract the gold, quicksilver (mercury) is mixed into the arenilla, binding the gold particles together. Then this gold-mercury amalgam is heated in a retort and the quicksilver evaporates, leaving pure gold. Up to 20 tons of gold are produced in Madre de Dios annually by 60,000 miners scattered around more than 85,000 square kilometers. Fifteen percent of gold mining in Peru is illegal, generating twice as much profit as drug-dealing. Currently, no miners can legalize their activities in Madre de Dios because of contradictory laws.
Rio Madre de Dios
"They say quicksilver poisons people and damages the brain, but it's not true. I don't feel it. We used to drink quicksilver to stop feeling lonely. It works well for anxiety. I swallowed it and forgot my problems."
Don Claudio
58, from Cuzco

Don Claudio:
“I was 12 years old, and they paid me a few cents per day when I worked in farming. They said, in the jungle you could get more. So I went to the jungle. A friend took me with him. But the climate was not for me: the heat and mosquitos, the flies were a real pest. I left, but went back to the jungle once more later on, and that's how I got this concession. I'm used to it now — that was in 1978."
Don Claudio looks for gold particles in the river sand
A man is mixing quicksilver into the sand in a barrel with naked legs
Artisanal miners work during daylight, whereas in motorized mines they work around the clock, in 2 shifts of 12 hours.
Miner's slippers, Madre de Dios
"The head still bites", says Don Claudio after killing a poisonous snake with a machete
Doña Sara:
"When we see a turtle or a snake, it means that there will be no gold, or just a little. They say when you cross the path of a snake, you must kill it, otherwise something bad will happen to you. This is what the people here believe."
Young workers are installing the engine, previously hidden from the police
Rio Pukiri
"When you see something that you feel might be gold, go get it, even if it is shaped like a snake, even if it is shaped like a locust — just go get it. If you are lucky, gold simply comes to you of its own accord."
Don Lauro
'Mustache', 53, from Junin

Don Lauro:
“We are equal here. We are one family. When we shake out the rugs, I can relax from all the working stress. The guys joke, we talk about different stuff and we are all together. And it's important that you work with pleasure and do things properly."
In the end of the day, gold particles accumulate in the rugs
After the working day, the miners shake out the rugs where the mud containing gold particles has accumulated — they call it "the moment of truth." Then they wash the mud to get the arenilla. Afterwards, quicksilver will be added to it to extract the gold.
Miners respect the hierarchy, even when they go for a drink in a bar. Normally, the workers don't get together with the concession owners. But when they shake out the carpets, this difference fades as the shared task unites them.
Juan works in the security service of a mine
Juan, 30, from Cusco:
"I'm a coca addict. Without coca I don't have any desire to work. I have chewed coca leaves since the age of 12. My parents used to grow coca."
Coca leaves in Juan's hands
Chewing coca leaves is traditional in the Andes, not only to suppress appetite and fight fatigue, but also to make a "payment to Mother Earth". The tradition was brought to Madre de Dios by people who came from the mountains.
Miners' offerings to gods in a clay bowl: sweets, rosewood and symbolic coal to burn it, Madre de Dios region
Sometimes children help their parents to dig for gold
Rio Malinowski
"Working as an artisanal miner is amazing, it's like working at the beach.
Well, it's exhausting, but what can we do to make a living — we go on, right?"
Policarpo Saire Suyo
'Uncle Coca', 72, from Cuzco

Policarpo Saire Suyo:
"I came to Madre de Dios when I was 16. I'm originally from Cuzco, from the empire. My surname Suyo has Inca roots. The Incas called their empire Tahuantinsuyo. In my native area, Paruro near Cuzco, the Inca traditions are still strong. The first Inca, Manco Capac, founded a village nearby."
The Father of the Incas, Manco Capac, was according to legend the son of Inti, the Sun God, symbolized by gold, and Mama Quilla, daughter of the moon, symbolized by silver.
Policarpo tosses sand with his spade to the tolva, where he washes the gold for 8–10 hours a day
Policarpo Saire Suyo:
"Working as an artisanal miner is amazing, it's like working at the beach. Well, it's exhausting, but what can we do to make a living — we go on, right?"
Miners' cigarettes, Madre de Dios region
Abandoned gold mining village with a barrel for mixing quicksilver into gold containing sand
Miner's fork, Madre de Dios region
Puerto Maldonado
"So we are in Madre de Dios — Mother of God — and its capital is Puerto Maldonado, which means "given badly." The Mother of God is given badly. What does that mean?.."
Don Marco
66, from Lambayeque

Don Marco:
"I began as a goldsmith when I was 17, and when I was 20, I was already working on my own... I worked in Lima, but there is a lot of competition there. You need to have a lot of money to make it there. So I decided to return to Puerto Maldonado, where I feel relaxed and there isn't much trouble… By the way, this is volcanic stone from Arequipa — you can't burn it."
In his goldsmith work Don Marco uses bowls and plates of volcanic stone which cannot be burnt
Don Marco:
"The most popular jewellery items in Puerto Maldonado are wedding rings. People get married quite often here. There are no machines here, the machines are in our heads."
Don Marco is making a golden ring with a precious stone
Prayer to our Lady of Mt. Carmel
Supplications in difficult times
In my thousands of difficulties:
help me.
From the enemies of my soul:
save me.
In my errors:
illumine me.
In my doubts and hardships:
comfort me.
In my sicknesses:
strengthen me.
When I am rejected:
encourage me.
In my temptations:
defend me.
In the most difficult hours:
console me.
With you maternal heart:
love me.
With your great power:
protect me.
And when I expire:
in your arms, receive me.
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, pray for us.
They divided the universe into three worlds: the sky they called Janan Pacha, which means the high world — there, they said, went the good people, praised for their virtue. They called our world of birth and death Jurin Pacha, which means the low world. They called the centre of the Earth Uku Pacha, which means the low world below: there, they said, the bad people had to stay. They had a stronger name for it, Supaipa Vasin, which means the house of the devil. They did not understand that the other life is spiritual, and not material like this one. They said that peace in the high world meant living a quiet life, free of the work and grief that exist here. And contrary to this world, the life of the low world below, which we call hell, was full of illness and suffering, worries and work — people there were tormented without rest or any satisfaction. So they divided this other life into two parts: all its joy, pleasure and peace they gave to those who were good, and the suffering and work to those who were bad.

Inca Garcilaso de la Vega
(1539 - 1616)
Comentarios Reales de los Incas

Read the Whole Story
The story goes through 3 gold mining regions called after their gold-bearing rivers and the small town of Puerto Maldonado, the capital of Madre de Dios region.
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