Korean-born photographer Daesung Lee has long specialized in haunting evocations of lifestyles that are being lost to the phenomenon of worldwide climate change. One of his previous exhibitions, On the Shore of a Vanishing Island: Ghoromara, dealt with the climate-change induced displacement of the people of Ghoromara in west Bengal. Jharia: The Land of Coal Fire profiles the people of Jharia – a small town located on one of the most expansive coal belts in India – who are being forced to leave their homes due to the proliferation of mining in the region.
And now, he has set out to capture the devastating impact of Mongolian desertification through the portraits in his provocative “Futuristic Archaeology” series. These images compare how the landscape of rural Mongolia looks today, as opposed to how it used to look when the traditional nomadic way of life was at its height.
Lee says, “Nomadic life has been central to traditional Mongolian culture throughout history. Even with changes brought about by urbanization in recent years, 35 percent of Mongolians are living a nomadic life and thus still depend on their vast, open land for survival.”
Rising temperatures have unfortunately begun to ravage this open land, bringing about changes that have severely impacted on the nomads’ ability to continue with their traditional way of life.
A recent survey conducted by the Mongolian government revealed that 850 lakes and 2000 rivers and streams have dried out.
As a result, approximately 25 percent of Mongolia’s land has turned to desert over the past three decades.
In addition, around 75 percent of Mongolia as a whole is at risk of desertification.
A recent United Nations report on Mongolia’s environmental situation concluded that “annual mean temperature has increased by 2.14℃ (35 Fahrenheit) during the last 70 years and precipitation has decreased in most regions except the western part of the country.”
This document, entitled Mongolia Assessment Report on Climate Change, added that the future climate scenario for the country “projects changes such as increased air temperatures, increased precipitation in some areas, but – nevertheless – reduction of water resources and area of arable land.”
Lee explained, “These environmental changes directly threaten the Mongolian nomadic way of life, which has been passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years.”
Based on his entirely probable theory that this ancient Mongolian lifestyle “might only exist in museums in the future,” Lee has set out to create a “museum diorama” effect throughout this project, in which images of the nomads’ rural landscape as it looked several decades ago are set against the rather more bleak backdrop of how those same areas look today.
He was, in fact, inspired to create “Futuristic Archaeology” after visiting a similar exhibition in Paris, which chronicled a variety of cultures that had recently been destroyed.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, he explains: “These collections (on display in Paris) had lost their function or meaning by losing the culture or society that they once belonged to. I thought nomadic life in Mongolia also will have the same destiny in the future due to climate change caused by our hands.”
“Futuristic Archaeology” will be on display as part of the Cortona On The Move photography festival in Rome, Italy, until September 25, 2015. You can view more samples of Lee’s work here.
Sadly, it seems to be almost too late to save the Mongolian nomads’ traditional way of life. But we can still stop human-induced climate change from destroying everything else on our planet before we reach the point of no return. We are the last generation left who are able to make a substantial change to the sometimes-bleak outlook for this world of ours.
All image source: The Guardian UK