The Price of a Pipeline: Rena Effendi's Powerful Photos of Lives Destroyed By the Oil Industry

rena effendi oil pipeline photo

An abandoned oil well (left) and a fisherman in an oil village, both in Baku, Azerbaijan. Photos by Rena Effendi via Getty Images.

Boosters of the Nabucco pipeline project tout the economic and political clout it will bring to Turkey. But where there are winners, there are also often losers -- as Rena Effendi's powerful photojournalism makes poignantly clear.Recently exhibited at the 11th International Istanbul Biennial and published in a book this year, Effendi's photographic series "Pipedreams: A Chronicle of Lives Along the Pipeline" focuses on the people affected by a similar project in the region: the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, which stretches 1,700 kilometers from the photographer's home country of Azerbaijan to a Turkish port on the Mediterranean.

Lost Homes, Livelihoods
The stark black-and-white images show fishermen who have lost up to 80 percent of their daily catch due to increased oil-tanker traffic, forcing them to abandon their nets. Landowners who have lost access to their property, where the land has in any event been so degraded that it will not recover its fertility for a dozen years. Refugees who have lost their homes due to landslides caused by the pipeline construction. The picture is a bleak one.

Born in 1977 in Baku, Effendi has never shied away from tackling, as the Istanbul Biennial organizers put it, "the problems of international capitalism, urbanization, the run-down state of post-conflict societies and corruption" and juxtaposing them with "the resistance at the core of everyday life." Her other photographic projects have included coverage of the 2008 conflict in Georgia and South Ossetia as well as looks at youth in Tehran, coal mining in Siberia, drug use in Kyrgyzstan, and post-Taliban Afghanistan.

Following the BTC from Azerbaijan to Turkey
Effendi's interest in the BTC project was sparked by the changes she saw happening in her Baku neighborhood due to the oil-fueled construction boom. With the support of a grant from Getty Images, she embarked in 2006 on an effort to follow the route of the pipeline to its terminus at the port of Ceyhan in Turkey.

"This multi-billion dollar pipeline project had a human cost: the cost was people who did not receive the share of oil wealth running under their feet; people whose rights were violated, who have lost their farmlands and livelihoods at the cost of the pipeline that carries energy, but not for them," Effendi told the FiftyCrows Foundation for social change photography.

"From slum dwellers who lost their homes to a real-estate bubble bloated by oil to victims of unresolved conflicts in the region and female sex workers attracted by the oil bonanza. These people's lives have been hidden by the glossy corporate PR campaigns [that] praise the pipeline project." Now, thanks to her work, they have been uncovered again.

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