Alessandro Cinque Peru, A Toxic State
My series is a six-year journey covering twenty thousand kilometres and thirty five mining communities, chronicling the difficult coexistence between the indigenous Quechua people, their land, and the mining industry. Through the lens of new and old mines, I explore neoliberalism and neocolonialism, showing the fracturing of the human relationship with nature and the lack of respect for human rights in the Peruvian countryside.
It all started in 2017, during a work trip to the Sacred Valley of the Incas in the Andes, when I met a fifty-three-year-old woman who told me she had fallen ill with stomach cancer because the water in her village was so contaminated. When I was ten, growing up in an Italian city with high levels of polluted water, I lost my mother to the same cancer. This gave me an immediate and deep connection with this woman’s story and, since that day, I have not stopped delving into it.
Quechua communities along Peru’s mining corridor have endured centuries of discrimination, pollution, and economic stagnation, despite the mineral wealth around them, buried within the beauty of the Andes. The country is the world’s second-biggest producer of copper, the third-biggest silver producer and a significant source of gold.
But under the scorching sun, metallic opulence coexists with abject poverty. Today, the Andes are still home to the country’s poorest indigenous communities, Quechua speakers, whose wealth was once ransacked by Spanish rulers and is now exploited by multinational corporations. The end of colonial control set the scene for a new problem: neoliberalism. Backed by the laissez-faire economic policies of the state, multinationals scouted the Andes for metals. The price has been paid in the health of indigenous Peruvians, whose water sources were either diverted for mining or polluted by it.
Many have heavy metals in their blood, causing anaemia, respiratory and cardiovascular disease, cancer, and congenital malformations. Mining has also wrecked their wealth by creating dead fields and killing livestock, the engine of the local economy.
More than this, mining has reconfigured the relationship of the people with the territory, leading to the gradual loss of Andean folklore and identity. Quechua people have a special connection with the land and devote themselves to agriculture with delicate care, demonstrated in their ritual dance to the goddess Pachamama — Madre Tierra, the Earth Mother — praying for rain and a good harvest. The presence of the mining companies not only devastates the land with toxic metals, it unbalances the relationship of the Andean peoples with Pachamama.
I have recently expanded my project to Ecuador and Bolivia, and in Peru I have started publishing a fanzine that I distribute to communities I visit. When companies start exploring new territories, indigenous people and their leaders do not know what they are up against. This fanzine aims to help restore a shared sense of belonging among people suffering the consequences of mining. It does this by raising awareness and encouraging dialogue about sustainable mining, while informing indigenous peasants about other rural communities that coexist with mining companies.
About the author
Orvieto, Italy, 1988
Cinque is a photojournalist who explores environmental and socio-political issues in Latin America, particularly the devastating impact of mining on indigenous Quechua communities and their lands.
During his childhood in Italy, spent largely in Florence, Cinque was inspired by his father, a wedding photographer with an admiration for the great icons of classic Magnum photography of the 1990s.
In 2019, after studying at the International Center for Photography in New York, Cinque moved to Lima to deepen his long-term work and immerse himself in Peru’s culture and society. In the same year, he began working as a stringer for Reuters, covering the wider Andean region.
Cinque’s work has been exhibited in Italy, France, Spain, the United States, Russia and Peru.
He is a World Press Photo 2023 winner in the South America category, a winner of the Sony World Photography Awards 2023 Sustainability Prize, and Lauréat du Grand Prix for the 2023 Prix Terre Solidaire. He has been a finalist or nominee for numerous other awards.
Cinque has received grants from the National Geographic Society's Emergency Fund for Journalists (2021) and from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting Fund in the same year.
His photographs have been published widely in international media including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, 6Mois, GEO, Stern, Libération, and others. In 2022, his work appeared on the cover of National Geographic, and he became a National Geographic Explorer.
In January 2023, he published his first fanzine, covering his work on the Quechua over the past six years.
Hoda Afshar, Speak the Wind, 2015–2020
Gera Artemova, War Diary, 2022
Ragnar Axelsson, Where the World Is Melting, 2016
Alessandro Cinque, Peru, a Toxic State, 2017
Siân Davey, The Garden, 2022
Federico Ríos Escobar, Paths of Desperate Hope, 2022
Gauri Gill, Notes from the Desert, 1999-ongoing
Michał Łuczak, Extraction, 2017
Yael Martínez , Luciérnaga (Firefly), 2021
Richard Renaldi, Disturbed Harmonies, 2023
Vanessa Winship, Sweet Nothings: Schoolgirls of Eastern Anatolia, 2007
Vasantha Yogananthan, Mystery Street, 2022