Image Story

Rare Earthenware

The “unmaking” of certain high-tech products led to the making of the Rare Earthenware vases, which were carefully crafted from the items’ toxic byproducts. Unknown Fields, with photographer Toby Smith, documented this reversed tracking from container ships and ports to the banks of a barely liquid radioactive lake in Inner Mongolia.

A worker assembles electronics at a factory in Shenzhen, China. Shenzhen produces 90 percent of the world’s electronics,
almost all of which contain rare earth metals; Photo: © Toby Smith/Unknown Fields

A worker assembles electronics at a factory in Shenzhen, China.
A yard of mostly red and blue shipping containers with distant buildings obscured by a haze.

Shipping containers at a port in China, one link in the global supply chain for everyday electronics; Photo: © Toby Smith/Unknown Fields

Workers monitor a very large industrial furnace of molten iron.

Workers monitor molten iron at a Baogang Steel Company blast furnace, Baotou, China; Photo: © Toby Smith/Unknown Fields

Four trucks transporting coal from a mine drive down a winding mountain road.

Coal is transported from a surface mine to power the furnaces of a nearby rare-earth metal refinery, Baotou, China; Photo: © Toby Smith/Unknown Fields

A hazy sky over an open barren space, which is a toxic lake, with buildings and smokestacks visible in the distance.

A toxic lake of mine and refinery tailings stretches over 3.8 square miles (6 square kilometers) at the Baogang rare-earth metal refinery, Baotou, China; Photo: © Toby Smith/Unknown Fields

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