Minas Gerais | Michael Naify
This body of work stems from the 2019 trailing’s dam collapse in Brumadinho, Minas Gerais, Brazil killing some 270 people. I happened to be in the state capital for the month having moved my elderly mother-in-law there to be closer to family. I was able to visit and shoot the aftermath of the disaster with some difficulty but was interested in understanding more about the mining industry, which is the main driver of the economy, in fact the state’s name is Minas Gerais (General Mines) derived from the importance of mining from its colonial past starting at the end of the 16 th Century.
While driving around the state I was constantly aware of the mines that dot the landscape.
Even the state capital, Belo Horizonte, is ringed by active mines and trailing’s dams. My desire
to photograph these mines quickly ran into the reality that it is very difficult to get close to
them. The mining companies are very careful to keep their activities hidden from view with
fences, security guards and even earthen barriers. I was able to get into some old, abandoned
mines and even a couple of active ones, but soon came to the realization that to get what I
wanted I needed to get altitude. During the lockdown of 2020 I used the time to get a drone
and learn how to use it.
Upon my return to Minas Gerais, I have been able to use my drone to go places I could never
have gotten to previously. I am freed from the security guards who would claim that I was
walking through an “ecological preserve” though I was walking through a devastated landscape
and would escort me away from that day’s mine. Now I need only get close enough to then fly
my camera to where it needs to go.
The photos expose a reality that I had never fully understood. The activities used to extract the
resources that make our modern life possible come at the expense of places and people. The
population who live in proximity to these mines suffer the effects from heavy metals that come
in the form of dust and water from these activities not to mention the many tens of thousands
who live under the threat of trailing’s dams many of which are classified as code red (risk of
imminent collapse) like the one which collapsed in Brumadinho (which was not even code red).
The effects on the environment are profound. There is no reclamation of these sites. There is
no way to put the mountains back. The results of modern intensive mining leave the site
without any topsoil and unable to sustain life. They have become a dead zone.
The worst is that I realize that I, as are all of us, complicit in this destruction.
Michael Naify was born in 1962 in San Francisco, California. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in History from the University of San Francisco and at the same time went to Brazil where he met his wife Simone Cosac Naify. Michael later went on to complete an MBA in 1992. After a stint working with the famed post-production studio Todd-AO in the 90’s he moved to Italy where he dedicated himself to the purchase and restauration of Historic Villas in and around Florence. At the same time, he founded a publishing house in Brazil called Cosac & Naify Editions dedicating itself to art, literature and culture. After moving back to the United States with his family he developed a serious interest in photography and eventually completed his MFA in photography in 2017 at the San Francisco Art Institute. In the years since finishing his MFA Michael and Simone divide much of their time between their home in Connecticut their family in Brazil as well as Italy when possible.
Photo Essay curated by Alejandra Martínez Moreno.