The Syngenta Photography Award at Somerset House
“If we crammed the history of our planet into a year, humans would have existed for the last 23 minutes, but consumed one third of resources in the last 0.2 seconds.” Visitors at the Syngenta Photography Award exhibition are left to ponder this quotation as they delve into a visual exploration of the environmental issues threatening our existence.
This edition of the award deals with the problematic subjects of scarcity and waste, highlighting the great imbalance in the distribution of resources around the world. As some communities struggle to survive without basic provisions, others overindulge to such an extent that they are eventually plagued by their own excesses, which come back to haunt them in the shape of air pollution and growing piles of material waste.
The winner of the Professional Commission award, Mustafah Abdulaziz, travelled across Africa and Asia to explore the plight of those for whom clean drinking water is an unattainable luxury. His collection, simply entitled Water, depicts women and children undertaking difficult and time-consuming journeys for a bucketful or two. He reflects on how a seemingly mundane task, which can be considered a mere inconvenience, is actually keeping many away from education and the pursuit of a livelihood, and the consequences are ultimately affecting the entire community.
In the series Desperate Urbanisation, runner-up Rasel Chowdhury presents a melancholy portrayal of Dhaka’s Buriganga river, which is being swallowed up by concrete structures and “brick fields”. The river is the nucleus that allowed the city to exist and expand in the first place, but it is now suffering a slow death by the hand of the city itself.
Richard Allenby-Pratt, the third finalist, draws attention to the UAE’s rapid economic growth and the way it has radically and irrevocably changed the Emirati landscape. In his project, Consumption, he investigates the implications of this unnatural transformation and the imbalances it has caused in the environment.
In the Open Competition category, the winner Benedikt Partenheimer presents the Particulate Matter collection, which depicts Chinese cities vanishing under a thick fog, alarmingly “disappearing in their own pollution”.
As the visitor advances into the gallery, there is a mounting feeling of urgency expressed visually, but also verbally, through thought-provoking quotations and worrying facts. The most eloquent message conveyed, however, can be seen in the striking images of human desperation in the face of dwindling resources.
As a whole, it is a powerful reminder of human fragility and it stirs within the viewer a surge of strong feelings and a firm resolution to be part of the change.
The Syngenta Photography Award is at Somerset House from 11th March until 10th April 2015, for further information visit here.