Archive for July, 2008

Prix Pictet Shortlist: Photographic Award in Sustainability

July 31, 2008

The Prix Pictet is a major new global prize in photography that focuses on perhaps the greatest single issue of the twenty-first century: sustainability. Over 40 nominators consisting of well known and esteemed gallerists, curators, directors, and editors nominated well over 200 photographers spanning 43 countries for this award, which is generally seen as the highest there is in terms of photography and the environment. 18 photographers were shortlisted by a group of highly regarded judges, including the work of Mary Mattingly, a former class mate of mine from Parsons School of Design. The photographers chosen have produced work of great significance and importance, focusing on urgent environmental issues. The prize awarded will be $100,000 for the winning photographer, as well as shortlisted artist offered a commission worth $40,000 to produce a water related project. To download the official press release please click here.

Shortlisted artists are:

Benoit Aquin
Edward Burtynsky
Jesus Abad Colorado
Thomas Joshua Cooper
Sebastian Copeland
Christian Cravo
Lynn Davis
Reza Deghati
Susan Derges
Malcolm Hutcheson
Chris Jordan
Carl De Keyzer
David Maisel
Mary Mattingly
Robert Polidori
Roman Signer
Jules Spinatsch
Munem Wasif

Each of these shortlisted photographers will be invited to show their work at the Palais de Tokyo in October and run through November, after which the show will be begin a world tour. Take a look at some of the images of each artist. They are powerful, devastating, beautiful, and extraordinary, all at the same time. I highly recommend reading the press release to find out more about each individual artist and their background, as well as the prize and how it’s come about. For me, to see a group of photographs whom I literally think of as the best in the world, competing for a prize that can have no better aim than sustainability in our world and communication into the devastating affects of climate change, I say, it’s about time.


Chris Jordan: Remains of a business, St. Bernard Parish
Series: In Katrina’s Wake: Portraits of Loss from an Unnatural Disaster

To visit the Prix Pictet site please visit


Benoit Aquin

July 10, 2008

“Always with an eye on humanitarian and ecological issues, Montreal based photographer Benoit Aquin is renowned for his photographic essays on such important subjects as the devastating effect of the Nemagon pesticide on banana-crop workers in Central America, the rapidly melting ice floes of the Canadian Great North, and the drastic desertification of China. Fueled by curiosity, lucidity, and a desire to involve himself directly with the world’s greatest political and moral quandaries, Benoit uses photography as his tool for social intervention. His new photojournalistic projects — including Lands Under Pressure, an examination of large-scale environmental testing grounds and their impact on humanity — demonstrate the depth of his artistic and humanistic commitment.” Patrick Alleyn

China’s Dust Bowl

“Deserts now cover 18% of China, and a quarter of them were caused by ecologically damaging human activities. Overexploitation of arable land, overgrazing, and increasingly deep drilling for water are at the root of what has become the Chinese dust bowl, a phenomenon the likeness of which hasn’t been seen since the 1930s, when the American Midwest and Canadian Prairies suffered from a devastating drought. China’s situation is quickly becoming the world’s most massive and rapid conversion or arable land into barren sand dunes. The resulting dust is picked up by the wind and transported, in the form of giant sandstorms, all over China and into Japan, Korea — even all the way to North America. In an effort to reverse the situation, the Chinese government has initiated the largest environmental restoration initiative the world has ever seen, and has begun a mass exodus of “environmental refugees,” displaced by the advancing sand.”

The images themselves are strikingly beautiful. The sand casts an erie and yet poetic sepia-like cast over what normally is a landscape full of color. Now, the only color visible is that of the sand. The images appear soft and painterly, as the sand casts a surreal fog over the scenery. This isn’t the first time I come to the realization that decay, and often times destruction, is beautiful. My boyfriend has jokingly said to me that I’m drawn to “disaster porn”, as he likes to call it. But he realizes that for me, it’s a catalyst for change, and a motivator to act.

Pesticide Nemagon: Deadly Mist

“In the 1970s and ’80s, American multinationals Dole and Del Monte used the carcinogenic pesticide Nemagon (or Fumazone) to fumigate their banana crops in Central America. They maintained its use despite the poison’s ban on American soil. Today, the men and women who worked on those plantations suffer from incurable illnesses, cancer, sterility. The children they do manage to conceive are born deformed. The companies feign innocence, and the court cases that were brought against them are on the eternal backburner. These are some of the images of the victims in Nicaragua.”

These images are sad, but humble at the same time. They present the truth of cause and effect, action and reaction, originator and consequence. The last two images are sequenced as such by Benoit, and exemplify the cause and effect relationship in a frightening literal way.

To see more images from these two bodies of work, as well as several other humanitarian and environmental projects, please visit Benoit’s website.

Kids with Cameras

July 1, 2008

The 16 million people who live in Cairo, the largest city in the Middle East and Africa, generate over 9,000 tons of garbage every day. At no cost to the government, a group of poor and displaced settlers from Egypt’s rural south, the majority of who are Coptic Christians, have developed an economy and community from collecting the city’s trash. Known as the Zaballeen, or “garbage collectors”, they not only help to maintain the cleanliness of the city, but sort out all recyclable materials to sell back to the manufacturers. Because of their efforts, 80-90% of all the garbage they collect is recycled and re-used. This unique income-generating model is an extraordinary example of environmental sustainability that has been lauded, studied and replicated around the world.

While the estimated 65,000 Zaballeen provide a valuable service to the city and the environment, they are not formally recognized by the government and are largely rejected by Egyptian society because of the stigma associated with their work. Most are illiterate and suffer from health problems due to the piles of waste that occupy their district. In addition, the government has recently secured contracts with foreign multi-national waste disposal companies in an attempt to modernize Egypt. These contracts cost millions of dollars, demand collection fees from the citizens of Cairo, and require only 20% of the waste to be recycled. They also threaten to destroy the already meager livelihoods of the proud, spirited and hard-working Zaballeen.

As the struggle over Cairo’s garbage disposal continues, the children of the Zaballeen will inherit an even more uncertain future. They mainly work alongside their parents and stay within the community. The little education that exists is of poor quality, and many children do not attend school regularly or cannot afford the necessary tutoring to excel in their studies. The opportunity for artistic self-expression is virtually non-existent.

In September 2006 project director Teriz Michael, a native of Cairo, began a photography workshop for a group of children in the Moqattam Hills, the largest of the five Zaballeen districts. Held at the Monastery of St. Simon the Tanner, the classes were designed to allow the children to explore the world outside their garbage community, as well as discover their inner voices and creativity.

Over the course of two months, fifteen children between ages 8-12 learned not only how to take pictures, but were encouraged to dream and recognize their own potential. Photography and the artistic process became the catalyst for building self-esteem, discipline, and respect. For many, these classes helped them to trust their own instincts, make better decisions and attend school regularly. They meet every two weeks under the guidance of Teriz and a local mentor to help sustain the network of support the children have become for one another.

The children’s photographs, which the project will share through exhibitions and print sales, offer a rare glimpse into their unique worlds, and all the pockets of beauty in their garbage-filled streets. Most of all, the images reflect the spirits of these children, who are the true treasures among trash. They will affect you in ways unlike that of anything else. Here they are, unknowingly doing what so many of us in the modern and privileged world, simply don’t.

For more information about this project or exhibit inquiries, please contact To view more of the images from this project, please visit their website. (All text sourced directly from site.)

Dimiana, 11 “Girl With A Pail”

Lydia, 11 “Boy On Donkey”

Mariam, 12 “Neighborhood Nights”

Romany, 9 “Divisions”

Simone, 10 “Captured Me”