BEHIND THE SCENES

15.08.2017

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"It takes some time to reach the shore – and the water is still shallow. If you drive towards it in a car, you will inevitably come across ships, stranded like whales on the dried-out lake bed. If you are unlucky, a strong wind will blow and fill your eyes, nose and ears with contaminated dust. Is this the setting for a miracle? Yes, it is. Right here.

Despite its name, the Aral Sea was once the fourth largest land-locked lake on earth, half in Kazakhstan and half in Uzbekistan. Industry flourished along its shores and people lived from fishing. Men went out in their boats while women processed the catch
in factories. Then an environmental crisis of biblical proportions developed. The Soviet Union diverted the rivers feeding into the lake towards irrigating newly planted cotton fields – with catastrophic consequences. The water gradually evaporated and the remaining 10% became so salty that only flounder managed to survive.

What did thrive was dust, contaminated with pesticides that sickened people living along the shores and in the whole wider region. Anyone able fled into the cities or to other shores. I know the story of what happened from my school years, but recently I heard a new one from a friend: a dam was restoring life to the Kazakh side of the lake – the water was returning, bringing back fishermen with it. My first thought was that this is a story needing to be told. Humans had destroyed the Aral Sea, but were also bringing it back to life. The idea of documenting the comeback of the shrunken lake had been born."

You can see Lieven Engelens work in LFI 6/2017.

Fréderic Stucin

Born in Geel, Belgium, in 1965, Engelen studied Graphic Design at Art Schools in Brussels and Hasselt, and then worked for agencies. In 2011 he worked increasingly with photography, focussing on landscape and portraits. In 2016 he completed his studies summa cum laude at the Fotovakschool in Amsterdam. Today he works for various clients and magazines, as well as on his own projects.

www.lievenengelen.com
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