Water Portraits visualize our consumption in a meaningful and surprising way

0 Posted by - October 23, 2012 - Conversations, Features, Visual art

In the excitement at finally convincing his father to be the first subject of his water portraits, Peter Holmes poured cold water over his father’s head. A surprise to both of them.

Since the initial portrait, 16 have been taken over a two year period in North America, Europe, Morocco, and Turkey. Water Portraits is a project  by Peter Holmes that seeks to “make water consumption visible in a meaningful way” and each image is accompanied by the average water consumption per country.

I caught Peter for an interview while he was on an eventful trip to California.

How did the idea come about to dump water on people?

One semester I had a class in post war art history and right after that, environmental politics. I realised I wanted to do a photography project on water, but something different than the pristine landscapes or photos of water scarcity in developing countries. We were reading a of statistics at the time, so it finally dawned on me to dump that amount of water on someone, to create a portrait of that statistic.

In one article, it mentions that the first portrait you did was of your father, and that the water was cold! How did that go over and how does he feel about the series now that you’ve done many other portraits?

Yes, I was distracted as I was measuring out the water because I was still convincing him that the kitchen was the best place. He was surprised for sure! I think he really likes the project. He came out a few days before the first exhibition here in Vancouver to help me build frames and hang the prints.

Water Portraits

How many different people have you photographed?

There were 16 last September when I printed the series. Since then I have taken two more, one in New York City and another just last week in Las Angles.

Each photo represents a different area – are the photos actually taken in that area, or are they just representative?

Each photo is taken in or near that persons home, with water from that countries municipal supply. Water is intensely regional by nature so it was important to the project that the photographs be taken in that area.

Why did water conservation become an important issue for you?

Our relationship with water is fascinating. Our water infrastructure and legal framework are both outdated. Yet no one wants to invest in infrastructure or make changes to water law unless there is some major catastrophe. It’s easier as a politician to maintain the status quo and hope that it all blows up after you have left office. Any changes to water allocations or major investments in infrastructure, even if needed, are only going to happen with popular support.

What is something alarming about water usage that you find people don’t know about?

Leakage rates are much higher than I expected. Some cites have leakage rate as high as 40% due to old and unmaintained infrastructure. But because these water mains are out of sight, they fall victim to slashed budgets and lack of political support. Unless there is is a major problem, little is done to upgraded water infrastructure, in contrast roads are constantly maintained. We can live with a few potholes in our roads, but not without water.

Do you have any upcoming shows or exhibitions?

I was happy to be have the 2 month exhibition at Science World Vancouver. However, I’ll be taking it down November 1st.

I’m looking forward to continuing this connection of statistics with portraits. If anyone knows where I can get some nice sized chunks of coal I’d be happy to hear about it.

Check out the collection of Water Portraits on this interactive Flickr map.

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