I’ll Die For You
[ EPF 2016 FINALIST ]
On June 11, 2010, 35-year-old cotton farmer Sanjay Sarate stumbled to his home & fell on the ground. “I’ve taken pesticide. I’m going to die” he told his wife. “This is the end of my life.” Sanjay hugged his then-six-year-old son, Sameer, as he journeyed from life to death.
In the past 21 years, nearly 300,000 farmers committed suicide in India. Many borrowed money through government lending schemes or private lenders to plant more efficient crops, but couldn’t pay off their debts. Due to the fast transition India has undergone from rural to an industrial, urban economy with an open market, farmers have been confronted by immense social & economic problems. Most farmers, like Sanjay, consumed pesticide, others set themselves on fire, hung themselves or threw themselves down a well.
Six years ago I began to visually explore the intimate relationship between man & land. My work seeks to memorialize the faces of farmers whose hard way of life led to their death. My paternal grandfather Hussein is my inspiration. A farmer in Egypt’s Nile Delta, his devotedness to his land eventually killed him. ‘I’ll Die For You’ meditates on this unique bond: drawing on a farmer’s dependence on the land for living & the land’s reliance on its farmer for survival. It’s a solitary way of life where man & land are one.
With your grant, I’ll take my series to the US state of California. The largest agriculture industry in the US, severe drought cost farmers in excess of 550,000 acres of fallowed land in 2015, exhausted groundwater reserves & caused billions in economic damage. There are underlined themes here: the erosion of farming as a craft, the human impact of erratic weather patterns & the disparity between rural & city life ‘as busy urban dwellers, do we consider the people who cultivate our produce’.
As of 2014, there were 570 million farms in the world. With more than 90% run by an individual or family, these farms fed the bulk of the world’s 7.5 billion people.
Laura El-Tantawy is an Egyptian photographer born in England and raised between Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United States.
Her photography is inspired by questions on her identity – exploring social and environmental issues pertaining to her background. In 2002, she started her career in the US as a newspaper photographer, moving to freelance in 2006. She is a graduate of the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia (USA), with dual degrees in journalism & political science. Additional degrees include an MA in Art & Media Practice from the University of Westminster (UK/2011) and a Research Fellowship from the University of Oxford (UK/2009).
She has published three books and is currently working on her upcoming monograph ‘Beyond Here Is Nothing’ – a photographic meditation on the emotional loss of home. In 2016 she was nominated for the Deutsche Brse Photography Foundation Prize for her book ‘In the Shadow of the Pyramids’ (self-published 2015).