See Powerful Pictures of How We're Using and Misusing Water

Why one photographer always finds important stories to tell about water.

View Images

Lady Bowen Waterfall in Milford Sound, New Zealand.


Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink. It’s the future that Hungarian photographer Balazs Gardi fears. For more than ten years, he has traveled the world to document humans’ relationship with water. His conclusion? “It's an endless story of how humankind is unkind to itself.”

For Gardi, the project he calls Water Front doesn’t have a definite beginning. While photographing on assignments and commercial shoots he began to notice the ways water is connected to every aspect of our lives. From the aftermath of chemical spills, to the logistics of delivering water to embedded military units, to impoverished children who can’t attend school because they can’t bathe—“literally everywhere you go you will be able to find something very important to tell about water,” Gardi says. 

View Images

A Roma woman in Sofia, Bulgaria's Fakulteta neighborhood, which lacks modern sewage and water systems.


View Images

Lake Wyangala in New South Wales, Australia, during a historic drought in 2008.


While the issues surrounding water may not be figuratively black and white, Gardi chose literal black-and-white photography to communicate these stories. “The issues are much more powerful—and people have much more emotion—if you focus on what's in the photographs rather than on how they look,” he says. The effect is striking—a photo of the drought in California feels just as bleak as a photo of a luscious golf course in Dubai. 

View Images

A refugee boy in Swabi, Pakistan, in 2009. One of the most crucial challenges for aid agencies is providing safe water.


In the decade he’s been photographing water issues, Gardi has been shocked “to discover how many of us are basically working on trying to make a profit out of water, on other people.” In his eyes, and in the eyes of human rights organizations around the globe, water is being converted from a common good to a tradeable good. “Water has a price tag on it, and can be sold for a bigger profit,” he says, “and so the next step from that logic is basically denying access to water to those who cannot afford it.”

View Images

Boys wait as a trickle of water fills their jerry cans in Al-Hajjara, Yemen, in 2010.


View Images

These pallets of bottled water outside a U.S. military base in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, in 2007, were delivered from the United Arab Emirates by land, sea, and helicopter. 


Even the crisis in Flint, Michigan “might be the tip of the iceberg,” he says. “That's just this country, where you're supposed to be able to keep your leaders accountable. Then you look at the rest of the world, who has no such resources as the U.S. has, no leaders have such accountability, and now you can imagine what do we do to our people. It's everything from polluting water sources to making the wrong energy choices.”

View Images

Migrant workers prepare a pistachio plantation outside Alpaugh, California, in 2014, during a severe drought.


Gardi’s goal is educate people in the ways water is and will continue to be a source of conflict. Even in the past ten years he’s seen some issues become understood as common sense, such as limiting one’s use of bottled water. “I hope the future is brighter than I think it may be,” he says. “I'm an optimist, but if you're asking me about the future, I'm heavy-hearted. We're slowly progressing, but not quick enough.”

View Images

Coal miners bathe in Pol-e-Khumri, Afghanistan, in 2007. 


View Images

Club members play golf in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in 2008. 


In recognition of World Water Day, we’ve selected some of Gardi’s photographs that illustrate water’s profound presence in all of our lives. “By looking at these pictures,” Gardi continues, “people can just think about how they could influence some of it. That's gold. That's everything I can ask for.” 

View Images

Terraced fields in Al-Hajjara, Yemen, in 2010. 


For more of Balazs Gardi’s reporting on water, visit his magazine Arzdarya online and on Instagram.

Follow Melody Rowell on Twitter and Instagram.

Comment on This Story