If the Ganga lives, India lives. If the Ganga dies, India dies.’
Vandana Shiva, author and environmental activist (from the essay included in the monograph)
‘In contrast to the sensory onslaught typical of the myriad exoticising images used to ‘sell’ India — bustling bazaars in kaleidoscopic hues, vertiginous throngs congregating on embankments — Di Sturco offers a perspective of quietude and restraint. Landscapes are barren, desolate, and strangely depopulated, a mood further enhanced by the use of startlingly simple compositions and desaturated colours. Here and there, man-made artefacts puncture the otherwise delicate tonal harmonies: a red sari blowing in the wind, a bright blue fishing net, a plastic sandal on the dusty ground.’
Eimear Martin, curator (from the essay accompanying the monograph)
From 25th September to 15th November the Milan-based gallery Podbielski Contemporary presents the solo show Ganga Ma, the result of Giulio Di Sturco’s ten-year photographic journey along the Ganges, documenting the devastating effects of pollution, industrialisation and climate change.
The project follows the river for over 2,500 miles, from its source in the Himalayas in India through to its delta in the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh. The main character of this research is a non-human entity: a river. Di Sturco decided to treat it as a human being and photograph the river as if he was documenting the life of a person. It was significant then, that in 2017 the High Court of the Indian state of Uttarakhand ruled that the Ganges and its main tributary, the Yamuna, should be granted the same rights as individuals. The law was overruled by the Supreme Court, who declared it legally unsustainable, but it nevertheless constituted a landmark in redefining the relationship between human and non-human entities.
The Ganges is a powerful metaphor of the mankind conflicted approach to the environment, being intimately connected with every aspect – physical and spiritual – of Indian life. India’s hallowed artery has seen its water levels shrink and turn toxic, endangering the livelihoods of over 400 million people who depend on it for their sustenance, decimating countless species, and spoiling essential natural resources. It is clear that the river is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis and an ecological disaster.
The photographs in Ganga Ma range from the banal to the quasi-surreal. As if to highlight the river’s man-made infirmity, Di Sturco has adopted a striking aesthetic tactic: presenting images that at first glance appear beautiful and poetic, before revealing their true nature. In one of the most striking and surreal images in the series, a worker attempts to disperse huge chemical foam-bergs with a hand-held hose, a Sisyphean task that seems doomed to failure.
Ganga Ma was awarded the Getty Images Grant 2014, the first place in the International Photography Grant 2018 – Climate Category and was exhibited as part of the Sony World Photography Awards 2015 and LensCulture Exposure Awards 2018 at the Somerset House in London. More recently, Podbielski Contemporary presented a solo show of Ganga Ma at Photo London 2019, which was met with great success.
A monograph of this work was published by GOST Books in June 2019. The book includes texts by author and environmental activist Dr. Vandana Shiva and curator Eimear Martin