California: Paradise Burning

From: November 11, 2014 @ 19:30 EDT
To: November 11, 2014 @ 21:00 EDT
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with Ed Kashi
November 11, 2014, 7:30 PM
The Half King
New York, NY

The Dry Land documents, in beautiful and stark pictures, the agricultural effects of the drought in California that is now entering its third year. The photos will go on exhibit at The Half King, as Photo Series #28, on November 11, and at this opening, we will screen California: Paradise Burning, a short film shot by Ed Kashi and Matt Black, which the two created in conjunction with Matt’s still photo project. Matt and Ed have focused mainly on people—workers and farmers both—who are the face of the drought’s worsening effects.

They say you don’t miss your water till your well runs dry, but the problem with California’s third worst drought in 106 years is that groundwater is where its farmers are going to supply 75% of its shortage–the state has 8 million acres of irrigated farmland. With reservoirs under 30% full (and forests tinderbox-dry), groundwater will only keep so many acres going—in fact, farmers are having to drill deeper and deeper for that, as aquifers are depleted. It’s not just the over $2 billion lost to the economy this year, it’s the over 17,000 individuals who have lost jobs and can’t feed their families or send money back home. Matt & Ed’s projects share a few of those stories.

As documents, The Dry Land and California: Paradise Burning are probably a harbinger of the future: It turns out that when scientists review the past 8000 years of ecology in California, dry conditions are the norm, not the exception. And in truth, the 20th century’s profligate water use—for instance, green lawns as far as the eye can see—has come to a come-uppance. With mandatory rationing, more efficient irrigation systems (such as drip irrigation), fines for overuse, education, recycling, and required data reporting, perhaps Californians will get a handle on the one part of this drought they can control: their consumption. Meanwhile, with no end in sight, and a dry winter predicted for 2014, the pain and hardship Matt and Ed have captured seems likely to continue.

~ Anna Van Lenten

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