Monday, November 10, 2014
Well of Holes
Between AD 600 and 1850, more than 3000 step wells were dug, by hand, in the Indian provinces of Gujarat and Rajasthan. Many of them had intricate staircase designs, peppered with shrines and balconies on which to linger in the afternoon heat.
They reach deep underground and provided insurance against the region's fluctuating water supply. The stairs guided local people – women, mostly – down to the water that seeps in from nearby aquifers. During the rainy season, the wells fill up, but in the dry season, you would have to lug containers up and down the entire well. This particular well, Panna Meena ka Kund near Amber Fort in Rajasthan, has eight storeys. According to local tradition, you must use different sets of stairs to climb down and climb out.
The photograph was taken by Edward Burtynsky for his latest exhibition,, which opens at Flowers Gallery in London on 16 October. "I wanted to find ways to make compelling photographs about the human systems employed to redirect and control water," he writes in the accompanying book. His research took him around the globe, from the fish farms and giant dams of China to Iceland's glaciers and the salt flats of Mexico.
Burtynsky found it a challenge to gain enough height to capture the enormous scale of water resources and the structures we build to tap them, and had to resort to drones, aerial lifts and helicopters. He took this picture using a 15-metre pneumatic mast, with his remotely controlled camera mounted on the top.
As well as documenting our ingenuity and recklessness in controlling water, he reveals the depth of our connection to this vital resource. As Wade Davis of the National Geographic Society puts it in his introduction to Burtynsky's book: "We are born of water... Compress our bones, ligaments and muscle sinew, extract the platelets and cells from our blood, and the rest of us, nearly two-thirds of our weight, would flow as easily as a river to the sea."