What is Drowning World all about?
For a couple of years now, photographer Gideon Mendel has taken it upon himself to show the world what it is like in other parts of the world where the climate is very unfavorable to them. Mendel has not minded the dangers and lengths he has to go through to make sure he delivers the pictures in the clearest form possible.
In his most recent project, Drowning World, he takes us around the world through his camera lenses and shows us calm portraits of flood victims in areas we would not expect. Drowning World shows the real picture of climate change around the world, the real picture behind the statistics and with real people the floods affect directly.
What inspired the project
The project is inspired by the biblical symbolism of the flood and Mendel shows people in environments submerged by water. In all of the photos, the victims often appear still, dormant, numb, stoic or paralyzed in various cases. According to Mendel, the subjects usually tell him they are glad he is there as a witness to document their situation.
Video: Gideon Mendel speaks about Drowning World
What the images show
The images show how vulnerable and fragile some people are in certain parts of the world. This only goes a long way to prove a shared vulnerability among races, cultures and tribes across the world. Although most of the images are taken just moments after he has met the subjects, they still show a kind of intimacy between the photographer and the victims.
He always works with an assistant who helps him communicate with the victims and carry his equipment. The unique part of his work is that he uses a camera that makes use of films instead of using a digital camera. He thinks that this way is magical to the results he achieves with the images he captures.
Mendel visited flood zones in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Australia, Thailand, Nigeria, Germany and India. He usually selects the background and the location and takes great pride in actually constructing the photos, not just shooting what’s in front of him. He explains1:
I am not coming to those people at home and taking their pictures as they are. In a certain way, what I’ve been trying to do is produce a consistent image from place to place, with a familiarity in it, a repetition of the gaze. I am not just making evidence, I am seeking to make pictures that speak through being aesthetically powerful and even a disconcerting beauty amidst the horror.
What all victims of floods have in common
In most of the areas Mendel has taken pictures in, the victim all had one common angst: they were not pre-warned about the floods. Most of them had less than 20 minutes to run from their homes when the floods started, making them lose valuable properties. They were all angry with their governments.
Why does this project matter?
The significance of Mendel’s work with the portraits of the flood victims is to sensitize us towards the plight of the victims. He asks us to put ourselves in their shoes and realize that it could have been us instead of them. Mendel believes climate change is a massive problem around the world, to children and upcoming generations.
As much as there is little control over the climate, it is still important that people get warned about upcoming floods. There are many flood disasters in different parts of the world and Mendel’s work only makes for a tiny percentage.