Photographer Goes Inside Harrowing Floods With 'Drowning World' (VIDEO)


Chinta Davi and her daughter Samundri Davi in the flooded village of Salempur, India. In Bihar alone, more than 515 people died and at least 2 million people were pushed to live outdoors as a result of the extreme monsoon flooding. (Gideon Mendel)

PARIS -- Two women in brightly colored saris pause for the camera on their way to buy oil in eastern India, their stares reflected in the near shoulder-high floodwaters. South of London a couple stands in matching waders outside their suburban home. In Bangkok a woman defiantly keeps her store open from a perch above the deep waters.

The flood victims that populate Gideon Mendel's photo series "Drowning World" come from wildly varied backgrounds and environments, yet all have had their lives changed by widespread flooding.

Since 2007, Mendel, a South African photographer, has been traversing the globe in search of these submerged worlds -- work he has taken on in response to climate change.

"I was thinking a lot about the problems of the imaging of climate change," said Mendel. "A lot of the images we see are very white -- white polar bears, white expanses, beautiful glaciers -- but they often feel very remote, and distant from people's lives. I wanted to do something very personal, and see people confronting the camera directly."

Mendel's images focus attention on these often overlooked stories of environmental disasters, and offer a glimpse into challenges that could be far more widespread and frequent if nothing is done to address climate change now.

Mendel's photographs are currently on display at the Musee d'Art Moderne in Paris as part of the Prix Pictet exhibition "Disorder," which opened in November with a speech by Kofi Annan, the former secretary-general of the United Nations and the honorary president of the international award for photography and sustainability.

Reflecting on the theme of the exhibition, Annan said: "Our mastery over manifold aspects of life has deluded us into thinking that we have bent the planet to our will. Yet the fragility of that assumption is exposed with each new pandemic, earthquake, tsunami or drought. With each passing day our illusion of order is shattered."

The timing of Mendel's work on display in Paris is especially prescient given the multinational effort taking place north of Paris at the United Nations Climate Conference in Le Bourget, where global leaders are attempting to forge an agreement to stave off the worst consequences of climate change. While this new global pact is hammered out in conference rooms, Mendel's images are a reminder of the destructive power of our climate, and how quickly our homes and communities can be lost -- but also, a testament to our resilience, and our fortitude.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The GroundTruth Project, in conjunction with the U.N.'s 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris (Nov. 30-Dec. 11), aka the 2015 climate-change conference. GroundTruth will have six reporting fellows in Paris, each of whom will be filing solutions-oriented climate-change stories which will be a part of HuffPost's What's Working editorial initiative. To view the entire series, visit here.