Contacting Toronto 2014: Drowning World

How I got the shot

Queen’s Park subway station (plus videos on subway platform screens throughout the TTC) To May 31

UK-based South African photojournalist Gideon Mendel has found a dramatic way to document climate change. Photographing people in flooded homes has become an ongoing project and obsession, taking him to nine countries. His stark images demonstrate how rising water leaves rich and poor in the same boat.

In countries like Nigeria, he offered subjects a small fee, but some refused the money, wanting the world to bear witness. In Somerset, UK, he forged a link with Shirley Armitage, accompanying her by boat to her low-lying farm. Shocked by the damage, she enlisted Mendel to help salvage her waterlogged family snapshots.

“I’ve found myself increasingly entering into this sort of collaboration,” he says. “Rather than finding subjects in their homes, I make the journey with them.

“The moment of making the portraits is crucial, and I see it as a collaborative process.” Mendel is seeking “a particular quality to the direct gaze at the camera. The pose is that of a conventional domestic portrait, but the flooded extreme environment is disconcerting and challenging for the viewer.”

He’s happy to display them in public installations. “I want my images and videos to have a life where they can work as both art and activism, to work powerfully in the world.”

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