Ganga Ma is the result of a ten-year photographic journey along the Ganges by Giulio Di Sturco, documenting the effects of pollution, industrialisation and climate change. The project follows the river for over 2500 miles, from its source in the Himalayas in India through to its delta in the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh.
‘The main character of my story is a non-human entity: a river. I decided to treat it as a human being and create a flow that would document the river as if I was documenting the life of a person. I thought it was significant then, that in 2017 Mother Ganga was recognised as a living entity by the High Court of the state of Uttarakhand.’ Giulio Di Sturco
Di Sturco began documenting the Ganges in 2007 and became witness to the devastating effects of climate change, industrialisation and urbanisation. The river is on the edge of a humanitarian crisis and ecological disaster—a metaphor for man’s conflicted approach to the natural world—both revered and desecrated.
For Hindus, the Ganges, known as Ganga Ma (Mother Ganges) is the epicentre of spirituality—a physical manifestation of a goddess and a purifier of sins. Many of India’s holy sites stand along the banks of the Ganges, where purification ceremonies, bathing and other customs including entrusting the dead to the river, take place. It is also one of the most polluted rivers in the world, its toxicity and shrinking levels, endangering the livelihoods of more than 400 million people and decimating countless species.
Di Sturco’s use of medium-format allowed him to slow things down, bringing himcloser to his subjects, and enabling a high level of detail and colour accuracy. The photographs in the book combine an aesthetic, painterly response to the complexion and atmosphere of the Ganges with elements of the observational detachment of documentary photography. The vantage pointsof the panoramic views in the book show the man-made structures such as bridges or illegal sand mining architecture, and echo the tradition of epic landscape painting. These images are combined with photographs taken from the banks of the river, depicting the effects of industrialisation on a human-scale.
‘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