Despite its inherent gravity, the term ‘climate crisis’ can all too often feel like an abstract, vast and impersonal entity. Which is why we need photographers like Gideon Mendel, who document its terrifying consequences in a way that feels very personal indeed.
The photographer has been documenting flooding since 2007, making 20 trips to 13 countries that demonstrate how the climate catastrophe “transcends geographical, cultural and economic divides”. His portraits show the human face of these floods, most recently in Bayelsa State, Nigeria and in Sindh Province, Pakistan which have both been hit with the worst floods in living memory in the last year, leaving innumerable buildings destroyed and millions of people homeless.
Mendel returned to these communities months after the floods first hit, and found that the water levels were still so high that people’s homes remained totally flooded. His documentation shows the people whose lives have been torn apart by those floods, revealing their faces in sharp relief and underscoring the very human fallout from these events.
This series of images, titled Drowning World, sits alongside another body of work called Burning World in an exhibition taking over the outdoor space of London’s Soho Photography Quarter, sited just outside the Photographers’ Gallery. Works from these series are on show as part of a free exhibition, Fire/Flood, alongside a newly commissioned film. The images are shown as a huge 40 metre-long frieze, as well as 4×6 metre cross-street banners. The works on show were shot around the globe, in Africa, Asia, North America, Europe and Australia.
The works in the Burning World series are, as the title might suggest, focused on wildfires. Mendel has been documenting the aftermath of these fires since 2020. Instead of capturing the drama of the burning flames, Mendel opted to show the devastation these fires cause on people’s lives and vast swathes of landscape.
“My subjects have taken the time – in a situation of great distress – to engage the camera, looking out at us from their inundated homes and devastated surroundings,” Mendel says. “They are showing the world the calamity that has befallen them. They are not victims in this exchange: the camera records their dignity and resilience. They bear witness to the brutal reality that the poorest people on the planet almost always suffer the most from climate change.”
Fire/Flood by Gideon Mendel is on show at Soho Photography Quarter in London until May 31