Working with both stills and video, Gideon Mendel’s intimate style of image-making and long-term commitment to socially engaged projects has earned international recognition.
Born in Johannesburg in 1959 he began photographing in the 1980s, during the final years of apartheid. This experience as a “struggle photographer”, documenting the brutality of the South African state’s response to peaceful protest, ‘marked him’ on some level and for much of his subsequent career his focus has been on responding to the key global issues facing his generation.
In the early 1990s he moved to the UK and embarked on his longitudinal project on the impact of HIV and AIDS. That photographic odyssey began in London where he documented life in an AIDS ward and expanded to Africa where he has worked with organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières, UNICEF, The Global Fund, Treatment Action Campaign, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, Action Aid and the Terrene Higgins Trust. The concluding and ongoing chapter, Through Positive Eyes, (produced with the UCLA Art and Global Health Center) is a global collaborative project in which Mendel’s role shifted from photographer to enabler, handing over the camera and image making to people living with HIV.
Since 2007 Mendel has been working on Drowning World, an art and advocacy project about flooding, his personal response to our climate crisis. The project has been noted for its complex narratives and unusual use of portraiture in extreme conditions. This endeavor has been seen in multiple contexts: it has been exhibited in many galleries, museums and photo festivals; it has been used in climate activism in collaboration with Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion; and it has been published in magazines such as National Geographic, The Guardian Weekend Magazine, The Independent Magazine, The Sunday Times Magazine, Geo and Aperture Magazine.
Amongst many accolades Mendel has won the Eugene Smith Award for Humanistic Photography, the Amnesty International Media Award, the Greenpeace Photo Award and he has been shortlisted for the Prix Pictet in 2015 (Disorder) and 2019 (Hope). In 2016 he was the first recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation’s “Pollock Prize for Creativity”.