"There is nothing new about flooding. The image of the flood is an ancient metaphor, found within the myths and legends of cultures around the world. It can represent an overwhelming, destructive force that renders humanity powerless in its wake and leaves us seeking refuge. As global warming drives an increasing number of extreme flooding events, this message continues to resonate."
Submerged Portraits | Gideon Mendel
Gideon Mendel is an Internationally renowned contemporary photographer. Mendel’s intimate style of image-making and long-term commitment to socially engaged projects are the finest examples of combining art and activism. Born in Johannesburg in 1959, he studied Psychology and African History at the University of Cape Town.
Since 2007 he has been working on Drowning World, an art and advocacy project about flooding, his personal response to our climate crisis. The project has been noted for its complex narratives and unusual use of portraiture in extreme conditions.
“Drowning World is an exploration of flooding using photography and video. My aim in this long-term project is to portray the human condition within the context of overwhelming climate events around the world. This endeavour has taken me on a creative and life-changing journey. The subject matter has fundamentally challenged my practice: over the years there has been a shift from a traditional documentary approach to one that incorporates more conceptual and metaphorical elements alongside a deepening activism.”
“Drowning World includes some of the poorest and wealthiest communities on the planet, all exposed to the floodwater that envelops them. In this moment the floods are a levelling factor, and people are brought together in visual solidarity.”
There is nothing new about flooding. The image of the flood is an ancient metaphor, found within the myths and legends of cultures around the world. It can represent an overwhelming, destructive force that renders humanity powerless in its wake and leaves us seeking refuge. As global warming drives an increasing number of extreme flooding events, this message continues to resonate.
In the Submerged Portraits series, my subjects pause and engage the camera looking out from their inundated homes and devastated environments. The pose may seem conventional, yet the context is catastrophe, and their gazes are unsettling.
They are not disempowered victims: they show agency amidst the calamity that has befallen them.
Over the years of making this work the global geopolitical situation in relation to our climate emergency has become increasingly urgent. As we experience so many extreme weather events, driven by climate change, we also see ever-more aggressive denialism (often espoused by populist leaders); a global political system incapable of taking meaningful action; and petro-carbon corporations that are resistant to adopting the most minor measure to reduce carbon emissions.