11th Nov 2014 4:00am - 11th Nov 2015 6:00pm
Photographic History Centre,De Montford University
On the surface of slag heap in an abandoned nitrate works lies a broken panel of corrugated iron. The nitrate works, Oficina Alianza, is one of many industrial ruins of the Atacama desert of northern Chile, sites once exploited by European speculators who dominated the extraction and export of nitrate, a highly valued ingredient of fertilizers and explosives. At the height of the trade in late nineteenth century, a photographic album, Oficina Alianza and Port of Iquique 1899, was sent as a ‘souvenir’ to the senior partner of British merchant house Antony Gibbs and Company at his City of London offices by representative of his firm in Chile. It contained around a hundred collodion prints that traces the mining of nitrate, its movement across the desert to Pacific ports and European markets. The album, a material form in its own right, also documents the materials from which nitrate works were constructed: corrugated iron, an industrial colonial architecture that remains characteristic of industrial ruins of northern Chile. These entangled material presences of nitrate trade are examined in this paper as documents of the chemical, industrial and capitalist transformations of a remote desert landscape.