The Lead Zone (La Zona del Plomo)

Description

In 2013, I worked with ethnographic collaborators to visually represent the problematic of lead contamination at the Port of El Callao, Perú. Usually unnoticed in the fray of mining politics, the port presents an unusual but critical site to contemplate the human impacts of extraction through its pervasive condition of toxic exposure. The port is where particulate minerals, mined in the Andes, are transported and stored before being shipped to foreign markets. Leaking trucks, porous storage yards, dusty roads, mineral theft, and corporate-state corruption all contribute to why lead contamination persists in the shantytowns of the port, despite fifteen years of technocratic intervention. The privileging of technical expertise has slowly corroded the political participation of exposed residents, whose knowledge of the situation is often derided by state officials as "too political." At the end of my fieldwork, I conspired with friends of the so-called lead zone to invert this logic by creating a film premised on the assertion that residents offer the technical expertise of direct experience. The approach is thus intentionally not multi-perspectival. The resulting film, currently rough-cut together but slated for minor editing and a new conclusion, attempts to depict the un-depictable: the movement of an invisible substance through an urban space and the human bodies that inhabit it, subject to complex material, political, and symbolic forces. It is entirely narrated and guided by denizens of the lead zone and how they visualize lead within their semiotic-material world. 

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Camila Points

At the Port of El Callao, residents know from previous scientific studies that their urban ecology contains lead from the storage and transport of mineral particulate and so do their bodies. They are also acutely aware that little has been done by the state or mineral brokers to remedy their situation. In daily life, they are left to observe, hypothesize, and imagine the pathways through which lead enters into their neighborhoods, homes, and bodies. This set of images previews a scene of the "Lead Zone" in which a resident maps the movement of lead particulates outside the storage yards–– from soils, tires, air, to lungs. 

Design Statement:

I selected this screen shot from the film documentary "The Lead Zone" (Graeter 2018) because it captures a moment of toxic virtuality storytelling. 

  • Centered in the image is Camila, a woman in her early 40s, describing how lead contaminated soils move through space and enter the bodies of denizens of her barrio at the Port of El Callao, Peru.
  • Soil around the storage yards contains lead particulate, leaking from passing trucks, transport and storage practices, and mineral robbery by local black market mafias. Camila's neighborhood, only a couple blocks away from the storage yard facing us in the image, is not "counted" among the lead afflicted and doesn't garner the benefits occasionally doled out by transnational corporations at the port.
  • The image captured depicts her pointing to the trucks passing by carrying loads of minerals and construction supplies destined for the mineral storage yard across the street. They are supposedly sealed, she comments, but as they pass by, they lift up all the mineral. Her neighbors walk along this road to get to and from work, the kids, to and from school. As she talks, dust lades the air surrounding the truck tires as they screech, turn, break. Worse still, she offers, the wind blows the dust straight to their barrio.
  • Without access to other visual technologies, her narrative reflects her embodied visualization of how lead moves through space and bodies. Her pointing and telling imposes a virtual reality upon the viewer to encounter a physical space that entails ambigous flows of toxic matter, which they cannot avoid, even if they cannot fully know.

Lead dust storms

At the Port of El Callao, residents know from previous scientific studies that their urban ecology contains lead from the storage and transport of mineral particulate and so do their bodies. They are also acutely aware that little has been done by the state or mineral brokers to remedy their situation. In daily life, they are left to observe, hypothesize, and imagine the pathways through which lead enters into their neighborhoods, homes, and bodies. This set of images previews a scene of the "Lead Zone" in which a resident maps the movement of lead particulates outside the storage yards–– from soils, tires, air, to lungs. 

Design Statement: 

I chose this screen shot from the documentary film "The Lead Zone" because it poignantly captures the inevitability of leaded dust inhalation at the Port of El Callao.

  • In this image, we see an elderly man forced to stop his bicylce in the middle of a large boulevard at the Port of El Callao, Peru as a truck backs into a mineral storage yard to his right. With the friction of tires, the dust below the truck rises to encase the man in a cloud of particulate as he patiently waits.
  • Just before, Camila, a resident of a nearby barrio, explained to the camera how the dust-- leaded by leaks from mineral storage, transport, and robbery--enters into suspension due to the passing trucks. She calls them polvaderas– dust storms. Residents who must use this road can't help but incorporate these suspended particulates in their bodies: they have to breathe. 
  • As if to demonstrate Camila's narrative, the scene of the man on the bicylce occurred. The tires lade the air with dust. The dust hangs over him. He waits, he must breathe. 

License

All rights reserved.

Contributors

Created date

November 28, 2018