Aral Tengizi: Story of a Dying Sea by Radek Skrivanek
The world is filled with stories and clearly photography is one of the best of all media for storytelling. Radek Skrivanek uses photography to tell the story of a region in central Asia that used to be a vital fishing community, but is now nothing more than a dried desert. The water of the Aral Sea has been diverted for other use, the fishing is gone, the people's lives have changed, but the remnants of their livelihood remain. It is a fascinating and poignant story to tell — one that is amplified because of the exotic and distant environment that few of us here in the West have even heard of.
One of the choices that Skrivanek made in producing this body of work was to present it as a stark reality rather than employing any sense of Romanticism. By that I mean, specifically consider the type of light that he uses. Photographing these scenes in that magical "golden hour" just after sunrise or just before sunset could have presented this landscape in a much more appealing and even photogenic illumination. Instead, he photographs at midday under a bald sky, with flat light that barely casts any shadows at all. The entire portfolio is presented this way. I think it's an excellent choice considering the nature of the subject matter and the story he is trying to convey. There is no drama in these pictures, there is only excruciating loss and the presentation of frank and stark reality.
Enhancing that choice of light, he's photographed this body of work using large format cameras that render exquisite detail. We don't just see the hulk of the ship, we see the details of the rust and the twigs of the sagebrush. Again, his choice of equipment perfectly matched the intention of the project — one of the considerations that is not always present in the portfolios we review here at LensWork. Far too often we find a photographer uses a certain kind of equipment because that's what they own, love, and are dedicated to. Unfortunately, if the equipment doesn't match the project, it's an uncomfortable fit and makes the final presentation less powerful. When traveling to distant regions like this, it may not be practical to carry several different camera formats along with all their accoutrements, but in an ideal world we would at least have the right equipment with us that best portrays the story we are attempting to tell.
One specific element of this photograph is worth mentioning just in case you missed it. Notice the grass growing inside the small boat in the foreground. That small detail communicates so much about the project and in particular the passage of time. Here again, that grass rendered in such detail with his large format camera contributes so much to the success of this image.
The portfolio can be seen in its entirety in our back issues — print (while still available) and our PDFs for computer, iPad, Android, and other devices. Plus, bonus audio commentary about this image is available to full-access members of LensWork Online.
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