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Touched by Money

Richard Pak’s project “L’île naufragée” focuses on Nauru, a Micronesian island, and how it turned from being a tropical eden to an “inhabitable desert”.

At the beginning of the 20th century, a geologist discovered that Nauru island was rich in phosphate, a mineral mined in millions of tonnes to produce fertilizers, animal feeds, cosmetics, dishwasher tablets, and electronics. Landing on the island today, the palm trees of the coast might still trick newcomers into thinking of a tropical eden, but continuing inland, an expanse of rock pinnacles left over from a century of digging stretches as far as the eyes can see.

After Nauru’s independence in 1968, the “hundreds of millions of dollars generated by the mining industry made the new state the richest in the world”. The lavish lifestyle that followed, accompanied by real estate investments, quickly came to an end in the 90s when phosphate simply ran out, leaving behind an economic and ecological disaster. Upon returning from his work on the island, the photographer treated the negatives with phosphoric acid, metaphorically submitting them to a similar process to the one that the island went through.

The exhibition “L'île naufragée”, by Richard Pak, is on view at Stimultania in Strasbourg, France, until September 16. The project was supported by Cnap and La Fondation des Artistes, and the photographer won the "Photographies & Sciences 2021" prize at the Résidence1+2.

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