For five centuries, the residents of Potosi, Bolivia, have lived and died in the mines of Cerro Rico, or "rich mountain." The name, one could argue, is painfully ironic: Although the mountain has been a veritable trove of silver, it has been imperialists, not the natives and Africans working the mines, who have enjoyed those riches. "At one point in the mid-17th century, the town's population was greater than that of London or Paris or Rome," says the photographer Evan Abramson, who has spent much of the last decade living and photographing in Bolivia. "The myth goes that at the height of excavation, you could have built a bridge made of the mountain's silver all the way back to Spain."
The mountain, which has been gutted with some 250 mines, now seems to teeter on the brink of collapse. And although the town remains one of the poorest in Bolivia, the mining continues. During the period from 2006 to 2008, when the price of minerals like silver, tin, and zinc increased some 300 percent, there was a staggering influx of work. But that increased work wasn't met with a corresponding improvement in health care or mining conditions, and residents' lifespan hovers around 50 years—15 below the national average. Daily life continues the way it has for the past 500 years.