Río Tinto, Spanish for “Red River,” runs through Huelva province located in the southwest region of Andalucía, Spain. Since 3000 BC, a site along the river has been mined for copper, gold, silver and other minerals. The water’s reddish hue is caused by iron dissolved in the water, and the ochre hues of the rocks and riverbanks are due to the high content of sulphates in the area. The river is very acidic (pH 2) — possibly the result of the on-and-off mining efforts that spanned over 5,000 years, but possibly caused by the numerous microorganisms that adapted to this extreme habitat and feed only on the minerals.
"It was an incredibly eerie experience to walk around this alien terrain, but exciting at the same time — it felt like I was standing on Mars!"
The mining site’s topography is peculiar and strangely beautiful, and quite simply, it’s a photographer’s paradise. Even though much of the water is red, in some areas it may be green or yellow depending on the type of mineral deposits in the riverbed. There are old mining pools, once used to wash materials extracted from the soil, that reflect the colorful landscape, including the glowing yellow-orange acid rock formations. Other areas, such as the one in the photo, are barren, arid patches of cracked earth that create stunning textured patterns across the ground. A pungent odor of sulfur permeates the air: a reminder of the ever-present acid rock drainage of this highly acidic environment. There is even a defunct railroad from the old mining days nearby — deserted railroad cars, oxidized metal debris and many abandoned buildings stand in ruin. All in all, it was an incredibly eerie experience to walk around this alien terrain, but exciting at the same time — it felt like I was standing on Mars!
"I composed the shot by positioning the small stone as a counterbalance to break the overall uniformity of the image."
When I came across this cracked patch of land, the textured grid of the hardened earth intrigued me, and I immediately set up my camera to photograph it. I composed the shot by positioning the small stone as a counterbalance to break the overall uniformity of the image. I decided to create an abstract image of an indeterminate place, and to do that, I moved close enough to the ground so that no identifiable parts of the surrounding Río Tinto scenery appeared in my frame. I knew as soon as I took this photo that my goal in post-processing would be to emphasize the textures and somehow enhance the color, thereby creating my abstract interpretation of the extraordinary Río Tinto.