Gideon Mendel photographs those left behind by climate disasters

Gideon Mendel photographs those left behind by climate disasters

Gideon Mendel, a South African photographer living in the United Kingdom, captures the effects of climate disasters on communities through his lens in his two complementary series – ‘Drowning World’ and ‘Burning World’. The “Fire/Flood” exhibition, timely because of yesterday’s World Environment Day, is hosted at The Photographers’ Gallery in London: photographs taken in 15 countries from 2007 to the present day show that humanity has been experiencing the effects of the crisis for decades.

He started the ‘Drowning World’ series when floods put Doncaster, a small town in South Yorkshire, to the test. He began photographing people half-submerged in what was left of their homes and repeated this a few weeks later while visiting India. “When I got back, I put these pictures side by side, portraits from the U.K. and India and felt that something powerful was happening – a shared vulnerability, despite vast differences in wealth, culture and environment. For me, that was the beginning of the journey,” he said, speaking to LensCulture.

Whether taken in Haiti, Brazil, Pakistan or France, the photographs document that no community is immune to the effects of a changing planet. “My (photographic) subjects found room – in the midst of great despair – to communicate with the camera, looking at us from their flooded homes and damaged environments. They show the world of calamity that has fallen upon them. In this exchange they are not victims: the camera captures their dignity and endurance. It is testimony to the stark reality that the poorest on the planet almost always suffer the most due to climate change,” he said in a statement.

In 2020, the “Burning World” series began, and Mendel had the opportunity to compare the two types of disasters and identify commonalities; he photographs each one standing tall, self-assured among the ruins, choosing courage over fatalism.

The ‘Fire/Flood’ exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery ends on 30 September.

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