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Photographs shine light on bleak living

Michael Robinson-Chávez’s photographs revolve around Rinconada, a gold mining town that he compares to a lawless town with no political representation or consequences. The rock in the gallery was brought in by photography students to relate to the burden and size of the rocks the workers carry. / photo by Warren Bessant

Danielle Navarro
Staff Writer

Los Angeles Times photographer Michael Robinson-Chávez had the opportunity to visit and photograph the barren mining city of Rinconada, located 17,400 feet above sea level in the Peruvian Andes.

His photographs of the highest city in the world are now on display in the Carlson Gallery in Miller Hall.

The exhibit of black and white photographs is named “Rinconada de Oro,” which means “Corner of Gold” in Spanish.

“I’ve done a lot of work in Peru, and it just always felt like a black and white country to me,” Robinson-Chávez said. “Life there is just so stark and drab; I think the black and white just shows how desolate this place is.”

Most of the 50,000 people who inhabit the city live in some of the most extreme conditions and work every day to find gold at the base of the San Francisco glacier.

The altitude is at the limit of human survivability. Every day, they scale polluted and muddy cliffs and work in tunnels that contain poisonous gases.

They toil in these conditions in the hopes of finding great fortune and providing for themselves and their families.

“It’s such an intense place,” Robinson-Chávez said. “The faces of all the people are weathered. I wanted to document the desperation.”

His photographs capture the raw emotion and desolation of the city of Rinconada and its inhabitants.

After viewing the gallery, people will get a better understanding of this harsh reality.

“I think everyone would agree they’re sad,” Gary Colby, professor of photography, said. “But ironically, they’re beautiful. They’re beautiful photos of a very grim environment.”

Colby said that he chose to display these photographs in the gallery because of the people and conditions that they depict.

They are images of people who live in an environment that contrasts greatly from American culture.

“Each of these photographs tell a different story,” Jay Jones, professor of biology and biochemistry said. “Each has a different thing to offer. They portray the richness of life.”

Jones and associate professor of Spanish, Gabriela Capraroiu, have also written reflection papers about the exhibit, which are available inside the gallery.

Jones and Colby agree that these photographs will appeal to all students and faculty in some way.

They are an illustration of the most bleak and extreme conditions, and are proof of the things that people in Rinconada go through just to survive.

“My hope is that students will come to see the exhibit, bring their friends, and talk about the photos,” Colby said. “Photography causes us to think differently about the things we see.”

A reception for the gallery and lecture hosted by Robinson-Chávez will be held at 7 p.m. on March 8 in the Morgan Auditorium.

Jones and Capraroiu, as well as professors Gitty Amini and Hector Delgado, will be participating in a panel discussion after the lecture to answer the audience’s questions.

The exhibit runs through March 23. The Carlson Gallery hours are 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Danielle Navarro can be reached at

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