An iPhone in the DRC: Photos by Michael Christopher Brown

Like many photojournalists,Ive beenshooting with myiPhone for a while.Using a mobile phone allowsme to be somewhat invisible asa professional photographer;people see me as just anotherperson in the crowd.Invisibility is particularly usefulin the eastern part of the DemocraticRepublic of Congo, wherea potpourri of armed groups andgovernments have used conflictminerals as the latest way to helpfund the warfare, atrocities andrepression that have afflicted thearea for more than a century.

The electronics industry isone of the main destinations forthese minerals, which include tourmaline,cassiterite and coltan.They are used to make criticalcomponents of mobile phones,laptops and other gadgets. So it isfittingif ironicthat I shot thisentire essay with my iPhone.I arrived in Congo in earlyAugust to document some of themines in an attempt to highlighthow the minerals travel out of thecountryand the trades effecton the lives of the workers whohandle them along the way. At acamp for internally displacedpeople in Kibati, the phonehelped me shoot scenes unobtrusively.Taking photographswith a phone also raises myawareness as a photographer. Insteadof concentrating on camerasettings and a large piece ofequipment, I am better able tofocus on the situation beforeme. It becomes more about howI feel and what I see.

In Congo, the effects of themineral trade on every personslifeeven the lives ofpeople who arent working atthe minesare palpable. At aHeal Africa clinic in Goma, Imet an emaciated teenage girlwho had been gang-raped bythree Hutu militiamen allegedly funded by profits fromthe mines.Im not advocating givingup our gadgets. The causes ofproblems in Congo are far morecomplex. There are industry sponsored programslike Solutions for Hope, whichtries to monitor coltan. Butauditing the origins of theseminerals is complicated by inaccessibilityand danger. Id likepeople to pause when they lookat these photographs, takingtime to think about where thematerial for modern technology comes fromand what lives are affected before they get into thephones in our hands.

Michael Christopher Brown is a photographer based in New York City. Directory Submission . His photographs appear in this week’s issue of TIME. See more of his work here.