|After a friend’s wedding in India, the young British photographer Chloe Dewe Mathews spent several months camping and hitchhiking around western China, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Georgia. She returned to England with three photo series, one on the oil-rich Caspian sea region.
Dewe Mathews knew little about the region beforehand, and responded instinctively to what she encountered. She had seen a photograph of a man bathing in crude oil near the Caspian Sea. She asked people about the practice and was pointed in the direction of Naftalan in Azerbaijan, a spa town where people have, for hundreds of years, come for a petroleum treatment. Later in the trip she travelled to Koshkar-Ata in Kazakhstan, an industrial area where she found a graveyard dominated by mausoleums to oil-rich oligarchs.
The documentary images show people bathing in dark, thick oil, landscapes blighted by pipes, drums and derricks, and migrant workers hewing graves out of stone. The muted pastel colours and ethereal light, achieved by shooting at dawn, dusk and on overcast days, give the images a poetic quality.
Chloe Dewe Mathew’s Caspian series won the annual BJP prize and will be on show at HoSt Gallery from 22-28 November.
By Mark Wright (Assistant Editor)