Fire / Flood by London-based South African photographer Gideon Mendel transports visitors from the streets of London to the heart of the climate crisis via a series of powerful portrait images that offer an urgent window into lives devastated by floods and wildfires around the world. Running until May 2023, this is The Photographers’ Gallery‘s second major outdoor exhibition in Soho Photography Quarter, its brand-new outdoor cultural space located right outside the Gallery. .
Featuring works from Mendel’s Drowning World and Burning World series’ of photographs, alongside a newly commissioned film shown every day from dusk, this free outdoor exhibition is Mendel’s personal response to the global climate crisis. Shot over five continents, with the most recent images taken just a few weeks ago during the flooding in Nigeria, Mendel’s work documents a shared human experience of climate change that transcends geographical, cultural and economic divides.
Since 2007, South African photographer Mendel has made twenty trips to document floods in thirteen countries.
Shown for the first time in the UK, Mendel’s most recent portraits were shot in Bayelsa State, Nigeria and in Sindh Province, Pakistan. Since August 2022, both regions experienced unprecedented rain and were devastated by the worst floods in living memory. Countless structures and buildings were destroyed and millions left homeless. Visiting these communities months after the initial flooding Mendel found that the water levels remained high, still filling people’s homes. Even as the waters recede, the damage to people’s lives is immense. Mendel’s images record this in a deeply intimate and graphically precise way.
The Burning World series is Mendel’s response to the unprecedented increase in the extremity of wildfires around the world, as global temperatures rise. Since the start of 2020 he has documented the aftermath of fires that have destroyed homes, killed numerous people and burnt millions of acres of land.
Mendel chooses not to document the burning flames, but rather seeks out their aftermath, the traces left behind on lives and landscapes. Made across different communities around the world, the people in his Portraits in Ashes series are framed by the skeletons of their burnt homes, inviting us to engage with the scorched world that surrounds them.
Mendel said “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. 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.”
Gideon Mendel : Fire / Flood
until May 2023
The Photographers’ Gallery
16-18 Ramillies St
London W1F 7LW, United Kingdom