The W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography is among the oldest photography awards. It is presented annually to a photographer whose work follows the humanistic tradition of W. Eugene Smith. In addition to this prize, there is also a special prize for students. Two finalists caught the attention of the Blind Magazine’s editors. This is the case of the photographer, Maxmilian Mann, who traveled to a corner of Iran that faces an ecological disaster.
The inhabitants of this region in Iran are encountering a new landscape: a lake without water. Boats sit strewn about ground, comments the photographer, like “beached whales”; the impression of a surrealist landscape is further accentuated by the whiteness of the scorching sunlight. Within a few years, the surface of Lake Urmia in the northwest corner of Iran has decreased by 80%. Why? Because of intensive agriculture flouting ecological norms. If nothing is done about this, five million inhabitants will be forced to abandon the area.
Maximilian Mann’s meticulously composed images offer an in-depth look at this endangered region. In one photograph, we see farmers picking apples in an orchard, while in another a group of individuals walking across the former lakebed. “I think that the environmental problems are the biggest challenge facing my generation,” states the photographer. “I want my photographs to show the difference between the beauty of the region and the catastrophic drying-up of the lake.” Mann’s photography is positioned between these two poles: it bears witness to the aspects of the region that still flourish—such as the traditions or social interactions, for example a friendly soccer match—and to those that are dying, like stuffed birds posed in a museum, the vestiges of a once much larger lake ecosystem.
By Jean-Baptiste Gauvin