Dried out palm trees, empty houses and abandoned fishermen’s boats. How did this deserted landscape once serve the seventh largest international lagoon? A story seems to unfold about Iran’s climate change, captured in Hashem Shakeri’s analogue serie: “An Elegy for the Death of Hamun.” As a filmmaker and artist situated in Tehran, Shakeri started a professional career out of documentary photography in 2010. Since then he won over ten awards and his work has been numerously published all over the world. In general, Shakeri picks contemporary subjects for his content, such as the modern world and its relationship towards humans and their psyche. Taking this into account, one might wonder: how does the narrative of the largest sweet water lake of Iran, Hamun, give us personal insight?
A civilization, over 5000 years old, once lived on fertile soil in the southeast of Iran, surrounded by green forest and wildlife. The region Sistan was rich with natural water resources, as the Helman River ran into the Hamun Lake. Due to climate change, Hamun’s disappearance has led to the devastation of many regions in the southeast of Iran; these lands have slowly become uninhabitable for its population. The people here are fishermen and farmers, directly depending on their water resources. In contrast to this, the photos portray that the combination of hot sunlight and dryness provokes the reeds catching fire. Nevertheless, Shakeri’s photo-series shows us that the community of this region is still trying to make a living out of the sun-scorched landscape. By losing their livestock, people now face problems such as unemployment, poverty and addiction. Looking at the portrayals, it is almost as if the inhabitants lost their authentic identity, in relation towards their environment.
Shakeri chose to shoot this dilemma with an analogue medium-format camera. By capturing most photos in intense sunlight a dreamy color palette is created. The bleached-out colours make the land look even more forsaken, forgotten and desolated. Is Shakeri able to make a statement towards Iran’s governance here? It is quite shocking that until last year the bridge in the photo still had a purpose; at the time the lake was still full of water. The photographer mentioned in several media that inefficient water management resulted in the disappearance of precious underground water resources. Indirectly the lack of water provides another catastrophe; environmental outcomes. In the photos fishes are portrayed, caught from remaining polluted water. Dryness in Iran causes smog and pollution, together with its health consequences. So alongside the dehumanization of the community that has been afflicted, people’s physical state is being affected too. It explains that “An Elegy for the Death of Hamun” shows that suffering has many layers for the community in predicament. As a story close to Shakeri’s heart, his personal project about the desolate land received great attention. All though socially-concerned photography isn’t easy in Iran, Shakeri seems to be an observing, documentary photographer and visual storyteller simultaneously.