A picture tells a thousand words as the old saying goes, but I think a picture does much more than that. A picture can tell an infinite number of stories and will speak to everyone differently.
The feature image for WATER Stories, an incredible new outdoor photographic exhibition opening in London on this UN World Water Day 22 March, takes me back to Lake Hong on China’s Yangtze.
It was around 6.30 am and myself, Yi Qing from WWF China and acclaimed photographer, Mustafah Abdulaziz had been on the boat for over an hour to reach the centre of the lake (yes, everything in China is enormous). What we encountered was like a Renaissance painting, hundreds of boats with couples like the one you see in the picture fishing for shrimp in perfect symphony. It was the most surreal and magical light, the boats looked like they were floating in mid air.
To me this picture represents, not only an ethereal kind of beauty, but the human side to water and our conservation work. What people won’t know, unless they read the captions on the exhibition, is that the lake this couple fish on was once so polluted that it was a water wasteland – no fish, no birds, no life. When WWF, with its partners from local government and communities, started work here we had to remove thousands of reed poles set up to catch fish in an unsustainable way. Over 14 years it has been restored to the cleaner lake you see in this picture, where people are living in harmony with their environment.
The gallery in this blog represents only a handful of Mustafah’s 70 large scale images now on display at The Scoop More London Riverside with Tower Bridge as the backdrop (pictured at the start of this gallery). WATER Stories is Mustafah’s first UK solo exhibition and includes beautiful images from China, India, Pakistan and London and previously unseen works from the series, taken last year in Brazil and Nigeria.
Mustafah has captured individuals and the landscapes whose stories are intertwined with, and impacted by water – the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil, where just two polluted rivers provide water for 21 million people; the poisoned marigold fields of Kanpur, India; shrimp fishermen at dawn on the restored Lake Hong, China; the water source of an entire community in Nigeria; and brightly dressed women hauling water from a 150ft well, three hours walk from their home in Pakistan. In these images he truly captures how we interact with water, how we depend on it for our lives and livelihoods and sometimes how we take it for granted, often unaware that it isn’t an infinite resource.
Since 1970 freshwater species have declined by 76% globally and right now 650 million people do not have access to an improved source of drinking water, while 2.4 billion people live without access to basic sanitation.
More than this, the exhibition is an opportunity for people that may not normally come across these issues in their everyday lives to either learn something new or just have a window to another world as they walk down the Thames.
WATER Stories photographic exhibition is on display and free to the public until 10 April 2016. For more information and a map visit The Waterhub