Tailings, also called slimes, tails, leach residue, or slickens, are the materials left over after processing gold or other ores. There are tailing piles all over Northern California and Western Nevada, leftovers from the gold rush of one year or another, the area where these images were taken. At the time I was photographing there, the tailings seemed very representative, both of the way of life left in these mining towns after the pay dirt was gone, and for my own search for a personal voice in photography.
The time was the early to mid-70s, when I was just starting to work with a camera again. When I was just learning that why I wanted to photograph was to capture the settings of people’s lives, rather than images of the people themselves, to tell their story; that a picture on a wall or a figurine on a desk could give life to a room, help show the spirit of a place; that I might be photographing Western mining towns but in my heart I was looking for the Pennsylvania mill towns where I grew up.