Gideon Mendel: Fire / Flood

Fri 25 Nov 2022 - Sun 26 Nov 2023

Last week to see Fire / Flood by Gideon Mendel at Soho Photography Quarter

Gideon Mendel's subjects of people standing in floodwater or burnt homes in their homes as part of Soho Photography Quarter's new exhibition

Gideon Mendel: Fire / Flood

Fri 25 Nov 2022 - Sun 26 Nov 2023

Last week to see Fire / Flood by Gideon Mendel at Soho Photography Quarter

This event is part of our Past Programme

It's the last week to see works from Mendel's Drowning World and Burning World series of photographs, alongside a recently commissioned moving image work, in a free outdoor exhibition.

On show in the Soho Photography Quarter (SPQ), an exciting new cultural space presenting free open-air exhibitions and projections, the exhibition showcases Mendel’s personal response to our climate crisis.

His photographs provide a record of what has already been lost to the climate emergency - and they turn this loss into art.

Gabrielle Schwartz - The Guardian

Drowning World

Since 2007, Mendel has made twenty trips to document floods in thirteen countries, witnessing a shared human experience of climate catastrophe that transcends geographical, cultural and economic divides.

Shown for the first time in the UK, Mendel’s most recent portraits were shot in Bayelsa State, Nigeria and in Sindh Province, Pakistan. Since August 2022, both regions experienced unprecedented rain and were devastated by the worst floods in living memory. Countless structures and buildings were destroyed and millions left homeless. Visiting these communities months after the initial flooding Mendel found that the water levels remained high, still filling people’s homes. Even as the waters recede, the damage to people's lives is immense. Mendel's images record this in a deeply intimate and graphically precise way.

My subjects have taken the time - in a situation of great distress - to engage the camera, looking out at us from their inundated homes and devastated surroundings. They are showing the world the calamity that has befallen them. They are not victims in this exchange: the camera records their dignity and resilience. They bear witness to the brutal reality that the poorest people on the planet almost always suffer the most from climate change.

Gideon Mendel

Burning World

The Burning World series is Mendel’s response to the unprecedented increase in the extremity of wildfires around the world, as global temperatures rise. Since the start of 2020 he has documented the aftermath of fires that have destroyed homes, killed numerous people and burnt millions of acres of land.

Mendel chooses not to document the burning flames, but rather seeks out their aftermath, the traces left behind on lives and landscapes. Made across different communities around the world, the people in the Portraits in Ashes series are framed by the skeletons of their burnt homes and invite us to engage with the scorched world that surrounds them.

Fire / Flood includes images that were taken in Nigeria less than two weeks before the display opens, giving you a visceral sense of our global climate emergency that is happening right now.

Gideon Mendel discusses his work & inspiration.

About Gideon

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. For the Drowning World and Burning World series, he worked in the UK, India, Haiti, Pakistan, Australia, Thailand, Nigeria, Germany, The Philippines, Brazil, Bangladesh, the USA, France, Australia, Greece and Canada. 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".

Each evening, from dusk, a newly commissioned film by the artist shows communities affected by fire and flood.

The recent flood response journeys were made with the support of UNOCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs).

Film credits
Video editor: Lara Garcia
Sound design and mix: Udit Duseja
Colour grading: Jason Moffat
Music: Jon Quin and Oli Steadman
Assistant editors: Elam Forrester and Sally Mumby-Croft
Cinematography and direction: Gideon Mendel

Gideon Mendel and Mandeville Primary School

Here Gideon Mendel’s work sits alongside artworks made by eight and nine year old children from Mandeville Primary School in Hackney, London. The pupils created their own interpretations of his well-known photographs showing people whose homes have been impacted by flooding or fires around the world.

Produced by the children in an intensive five-week workshop run by Mendel and facilitator Claire Ward-Thornton of Art Hoppers, Year Four pupils developed their understanding of global warming through photography, writing and drawing. 

The pupils were also inspired by a trip to see Gideon’s exhibition at The Photographers Gallery and a visit to their class by Gurjeet Dhonoa whose home in Colorado, USA, was burnt down on New Years Eve in 2021, and was one of Mendel’s subjects.

Alexandra Stones was a contributor to the project.