Photographer captures the tensions revealed by devastating floods

Floodwaters are both devastating and inspirational for photographer Gideon Mendel.

The availability of clean, drinkable water is an unwavering need for the survival of any population, but this life-giving element is also a deadly force to be reckoned with. More and more regions have been hit with severe rainstorms and devastating floods as climate change leads to an increase in extreme weather events. Renowned contemporary photographer Gideon Mendel attempts to capture the magnitude of climate change through portraits of flood survivors all over the world.

The photo series “Drowning World” began in 2007.  Travelling to flood zones around the world, Mendel endeavoured to photograph flood survivors in conventional poses in their natural element with their environments disconcertingly altered.

“The flood is an ancient metaphor, found within the myths and legends of many cultures,” he writes. “It represents 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 each year, this message continues to resonate.”

Wilaiporn Hongjantuek, Amornchai, Bangkok, Thailand, November 2011

Chinta and Samundri Davi, Salempur Village near Muzaffarpur, Bihar, India, August 2007

AShirley Armitage, Moorland Village, Somerset, UK, February 2014

JHaji Sharif, Kando Khan Bozdar Village, Sindh, Pakistan, September 2010

While portraits rest at the heart of the project, Mendel’s journey led to two further bodies of work: Flood Lines and Water Marks. Flood Lines documents the impact of floodwaters on interior landscapes, and Water Marks documents the changes left by floodwaters on personal photographs. 

From the household of Muskan and Javed Ahmed, Mahjoor Nagar, Srinagar Kashmir, India, September 2014

From the home of Shirley Armitage. Moorland Village, Somerset, UK, February 2014

School Mural, Igbogeni, Bayelsa State, Nigeria, November 2012

Front Garden, Toll Bar Village near Doncaster, UK, June 2007

In his travels, the photographer was also able to draw distinct parallels between societies around the world. “In a flooded landscape, life is suddenly turned upside down and normality suspended. With an almost ‘tracing paper’ effect on the societies in which they occur, flood waters often reveal underlying tensions and difficulties as they recede,” he says.

“It is these elements that continue to draw me to flood zones, evoking many questions about our sense of stability in the world.” 

Graham and Kieran Leith, Toll Bar Village, South Yorkshire, UK, June 2007

Christa and Salomon Raymond Fils, Decade Village. Haiti, September 2008

Mushaq Ahmad Wani and Shafeeqa Mushtaq, Jawahar Nagar, Srinagar Kashmir, India, October 2014