FR EN ES Search
  1. Home
  2. Past Events
  3. An emergency behind the beauty


All the news

An emergency behind the beauty

Interview with Franck Vogel, photographer, journalist and film director.


Trained as an agronomic engineer, Franck Vogel became a photographer after a voyage around the world that changed his life. Now a photographer, he travels to discover rivers and their populations and expresses their problems through his images. Interview with the author of Fleuves Frontières (Border Rivers).



Why do you photograph rivers?

I grew up in the countryside in Alsace. I come from a family of winegrowers and have been aware since I was just a child of the importance of water when it didn’t rain. I quickly understood that it was vital for life. After my studies in Paris and my first job as a consultant, I decided to change my life. I went to East Africa, India, Nepal and Southeast Asia. That’s where I rediscovered the challenge that this resource represents, the extent to which it is crucial for the survival of a family and the economic prosperity of a country. In 2011, I was told of the Renaissance dam on the Blue Nile. That was when I started to take an interest in rivers, in their geopolitical dimension. I worked on the Nile for three months and then on other rivers around the world, faced with different issues (pollution, overexploitation, clogging by sediments, the impossibility for certain populations to obtain access to rivers, etc.). I felt I had to share and explain all that with the public, to make it aware of the often hard reality of the situation.

What is the message you want to get across?

I try to place people at the heart of my images, to find the link between humans and rivers. The river serves to provide drinking water, transport … it’s life. I don’t only show misery. For example, the Colorado River, has run dry and no longer reaches the sea. From a height one can see that it’s very beautiful, rather like the roots of a tree. When you read the caption of the photo, you become aware of the urgency. The idea is to convey simple messages while attracting attention through the beauty of things.

We hear of scarcer water and plastic pollution in rivers and oceans. Are they realities you’ve had to face?

Each river has its problem. On the Nile the first war over water has already taken place. The impact of the Ethiopian dam is strong: over a period of 10 years, Egypt will lose from 10% to 25% of its water. As for the Ganges, it’s one of the most polluted rivers in the world. Chemical products, sewage and cadavers are all tipped into it. It’s nonetheless one of the most sacred rivers, considered as the mother of the Hindus. The population bathes in it and drinks its water to cure their ills. And there’s a reason for that. The water of the Ganges is different: at its source, it flows through the permafrost which releases prehistoric bacteriophages that kill bacteria. It is also the river that contains the highest dissolved oxygen content in the world. Thanks to these properties and despite the pollution, life can go on.

Doesn’t the solution consist in making people more aware of the impact of pollution on health?

It’s more complicated than it looks. In France, 20 years ago, we threw our waste out of our car windows. That’s what’s happening now in poor countries, so it’s difficult to set an example. In Albania, there’s no respect for the environment or the coast simply because there’s no awareness of the consequences. In Africa, the reason is sometimes culture. I once ate a cereal bar in a Kenyan village. Since there was no trash bin around, it seemed obvious I should keep the plastic wrapping in my pocket. The people I was with were surprised and asked “Are you so poor you have to keep it in your pocket?”

The mixture of politics and health also makes the situation more complicated. It’s a question of money. For example, the Nile is clean up to Cairo, where Egyptian industrial companies, the same that win contracts to treat wastewater, pollute it. You see, it costs far less to tip your waste into the river than to treat it. This now polluted water then continues its course to the delta, where it irrigates the tomatoes that end up on the plates of the Egyptian people. Being heedless to the point of self-pollution is dramatic.

What can an association like Initiatives for the Future of Great Rivers (IFGR) contribute to preserve rivers?

The aim of IFGR is to make people aware and help the different actors to interact and communicate. The association has a role of mediator. It’s Chairman, Erik Orsenna, is passionate about water. Through its multidisciplinary approach rooted in the territories, IFGR can bring together companies, managers, public decision-makers and entrepreneurs to provide shared solutions. Not just by saying to them “you have to do this and that…”, but more subtly, so they become aware of the impacts on their families, on their daily lives. What happens to others can happen to them too, indirectly.

For more information

Discover Fleuves frontières by Franck Vogel at an exhibition at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris, from 15 October to 30 November.

Mettez à jour votre navigateur pour consulter ce site