UVA project pictures the meaning of water

UVA project pictures the meaning of water

I guess I kind of have water on the brain this week. But hey, it’s a big deal. Today the jumping-off point is an exhibit in UVA’s Newcomb Hall Art Gallery, where I stopped by this morning to see photos taken by residents of a small South African village.

The 13 photographers were provided disposable cameras by a UVA research team, who in turn collaborated with scholars from South Africa’s University of Venda in this "Photovoice" project. Allowing residents to tell their own stories through photography is meant to be a way for the researchers to collect information while empowering locals, and in this case, the idea was to document how residents use water.

Photo courtesy UVA

As the 30 or so photos in the exhibit very directly demonstrate, this village is a place where getting, storing and using water is a daily struggle. A young man scoops water for drinking right out of a stream. Women wash their clothes in a river. A young boy pushes two large water jugs in a wheelbarrow. You stroll past these photos, reading residents’ own comments about the threat of disease and the constant scarcity, and you get a sense of an intimate, fragile connection with the environment that is utterly different from our own abstract experience of turning a faucet. You can see the South Africa exhibit at Newcomb through September 1.

Of course, it’s always fascinating to visit another place through imagery, but the next thing that happened in my mind was a desire to take some photos of my own—parallel images of Charlottesville that would describe the reality of water use here.

What else could we include—the RWSA board debating the Ragged Mountain Dam, sprinklers watering sun-warmed sidewalks, the new pool at Meade Park…?

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