The global award in photography and sustainability

Malcolm Hutcheson

Exposing the negative turns present into past. Unfortunately, photography cannot look into the future. It is primarily concerned with highlighting the problems not in describing the solutions. But when it comes to recording a plainly untenable situation it is powerfully persuasive. I work in Pakistan with a traditional handmade wooden camera in which I develop the negatives at the time of exposure, a sort of primitive Polaroid.

It is time-consuming, an audience gathers, the subject remains motionless for the exposure, usually over a second and every photograph becomes an interactive event. The negative bares the marks of the camera and of the processing conditions. There is nothing candid about this work yet I hope it is revelatory, of the people and of their lives. Pakistan suffers from an increase in demand for water and a reduced capacity to supply it. Compounding this are two additional problems: a lack of government activity and ignorance amongst the population as to the dangers of pollution.

In Lahore people have had other things on their minds. There have been bombings, political uncertainty, rising food prices, and the lack of electricity that causes six hours of power cuts per day across the entire city. The last of these problems is due to bad planning and little investment in the major infrastructure needed with the high rate of population growth. A similar situation exists in the water economy.

The result is a poorly maintained, antiquated sewage system. 90 per cent of Lahore’s sewage, domestic and industrial, pours untreated into the local aquatic environment. It flows mainly into the Ravi River which lies on the edge of the city.

However, for several months of the year the waters of the Ravi are diverted for irrigation and then the waste water collects in stagnant pools in the dry riverbed, the banks of which are lined with rubbish. It is difficult to think of a better way to leach toxins into the ground water reserves. The pollution of this sweet water is such that the municipal wells have to be sunk deeper each year. Toxins have reached as far as 100 metres down into the groundwater.

Though unaware of the long-term risks to health, it is never out of choice that people work in such
disagreeable conditions. These photographs show the people who have to work with waste water, either maintaining the system or making money from using it.

Malcolm Hutcheson