‘Three girls engulfed in a dust storm on their way to school in Bamiyan, Afghanistan’ by Solmaz Daryani
Science can explain the causes and effects of climate change, but it takes photography to graphically illustrate its human cost.
Iranian photographer Solmaz Daryani is on a mission to document the havoc wreaked by global warming. She has been shortlisted in the RPS Science Photographer of the Year competition for her images of dust storms and flash floods in Afghanistan that tell harrowing stories of wrecked lives.
One photograph shows three girls engulfed in a furious dust storm as they head to school, and to an uncertain future. Daryani discovered that every year severe drought compels many impoverished farmers to take their daughters out of school to be married for wedding dowries.
“Climate change isn’t just the melting of glaciers,” she says. “It is about a direct impact on Afghan girls who dream of being doctors or scientists and don’t want to leave school and get married.
“They were desperate to continue their studies and it was heartbreaking to know their lives could be changed forever. In one school almost one third of the 600 girls were taken out because their family couldn’t afford even the little money needed for their education.”
The dust storm image is one of two by the Iranian photographer to make the RPS Science Photographer of the Year 2020 shortlist. Both photographs will feature in a virtual exhibition of shortlisted and winning images selected from more than 1,000 entries that show science in action, depict its impact on our everyday lives, or illustrate how photography helps to record scientific events.
Daryani’s interest in environmental issues began with a project sparked by the experience of her own family, then living near Lake Urmia in Iran, one of the world’s biggest salt lakes. Successive droughts over 10 years, compounded by farmers digging illegal wells, caused it to shrink dramatically and Daryani’s grandparents lost their agricultural land, a tourist guesthouse and their livelihoods.
“Then I started going around the lake and documenting the same stories as my family’s, and how people were ruining their environment by digging thousands of illegal underground wells and some dams. It’s as if the environment was answering them back.”
Her series The Death of Lake Urmia, 2014 – ongoing, shows haunting images of parched agricultural land, abandoned tourist resorts and dilapidated pleasure boats stranded far from the shrinking waters. Signs of mounting poverty are obvious.
“There is a very strong bond between people and their environment that is historically and culturally important,” says Daryani. “Lake Urmia is not only a lake for me – it is my childhood memories and many things that contribute to my identity. I believe these stories create narratives and they need to be told. It is vital we preserve our environment and tell more and more stories about it. Climate photographers are contributing valuable data to enhance public understanding.
“Afghanistan is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change and one of the least equipped to deal with it. Scientists warn that drought, flood, extreme weather and child marriage will only get worse.
“In this situation, images not only convey important information – they can inspire emotional reactions. Life around Lake Urmia may not be important to people in other countries, but when they see in photographs how their impact on the environment can affect the lives of 15-year-old schoolgirls in Afghanistan, perhaps people will take time to think about it and to care.”
The RPS Journal is available exclusively to members. Join us to receive our award-winning magazine and read more inspiring features. Explore full member benefits here.