Drowning World is an exploration of flooding using photography and video. My aim in this long-term project is to portray the human condition within the context of overwhelming climate events around the world. This endeavour has taken me on a creative and life-changing journey. The subject matter has fundamentally challenged my practice: over the years there has been a shift from a traditional documentary approach to one that incorporates more conceptual and metaphorical elements alongside a deepening activism.
In 2007 I photographed two floods that occurred within weeks of each other, one in the UK and the other in India. I was struck by the contrasting impacts of these floods, and the shared vulnerability that seemed to unite the people I encountered in this landscape.
Since then, I have endeavored to visit flood zones around the world, witnessing a shared human experience of catastrophe that transcends geographical, cultural and economic divides. The project now incorporates the UK (2007, 2014 and 2016), India (2007 and 2014), Haiti (2008), Pakistan (2010), Australia (2011), Thailand (2011), Nigeria (2012), Germany (2013), The Philippines (2013), Brazil (2015), Bangladesh (2015), the USA (2015, 2017 and 2018), and France (2016 and 2018).
Drowning World includes some of the poorest and wealthiest communities on the planet, all exposed to the floodwater that envelops them. In this moment the floods are a levelling factor, and people are brought together in visual solidarity.
In the Submerged Portraits series, my subjects pause and engage the camera looking out from their inundated homes and devastated environments. The pose may seem conventional, yet the context is catastrophe, and their gazes are unsettling. They are not disempowered victims: they show agency amidst the calamity that has befallen them.
Over the years of making this work the global geopolitical situation in relation to our climate emergency has become increasingly urgent. As we experience so many extreme weather events, driven by climate change, we also see ever-more aggressive denialism (often espoused by populist leaders); a global political system incapable of taking meaningful action; and petro-carbon corporations that are resistant to adopting the most minor measure to reduce carbon emissions. In the face of this, I feel a personal responsibility to make this project speak as loudly as possible.
Joseph and Endurance Edem, with their children Godfreedom and Josephine
Ripon Islam and Tarajul Islam
Sariakandi Upazila, Bogra District
Malek Mia, Tahomina Begun, Shamin, Tamin and Tazin