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August 2, 2016

Talk to: Visual storyteller Mathias Depardon


With 9m2, it’s the smallest living space on Volkshotel grounds. But don’t let its size fool you. This tiny eco-friendly hub, hidden in the parking lot of Volkshotel, might just contain the greatest ideas. Every month a new photographer is resident of photography platform Docking Station. As a ‘docker’ their goal is to move their visual story forward. By collaborating with experts in the field, encountering likeminded Dutchies or just by riding their docking bike through Amsterdam. French photographer Mathias Depardon is the third docker. This is his story.

View on a terrace of a restaurant above the Tigris. The Ilisu dam project due in 2016 will flood 80% of the ancient monuments of Hasankeyf along with 52 other villages and 15 small towns by the year 2016. Turkey

For starters, how do you like living in a 9m2 box on Volkshotel’s parking lot?
“Well, it’s an experience all right. I first lived in a big 120m2 apartment, then moved to an apartment of 60m2 and now I’m living on 9m2. You can say that I’m seriously downgrading. Haha. But, there’s really everything there. I mainly sleep in the hub though, because I work at Volkshotel. It’s quite a pleasant place to work and be around other working people. Yesterday I even met someone from Broedplaats, Akwasi. We started talking and he gave me a ride in a pimped out black Mini, because it was pouring down with rain.”

Tell us something about the story that you’re working on, Gold Rivers.
“It’s about Turkish water policy and the Tigris-Euphrates. The Euphrates is the longest and one of the most historically important rivers in Western Asia running over 2800 km. Together with the Tigris river it covers a distance of 4650 km. The river runs though the village of Hasankeyf, located in Southeast Turkey and the only place in the world that gathers nine of the ten criteria to be considered worldwide heritage by the UNESCO. At the moment a dam is being built at the edges of the Tigris. To create the second biggest reservoir of water and the fourth hydro electrical power station of Turkey. The project will entirely flood Hasankeyf along with 52 other villages and 15 small towns.”

“Also, the project endangers the water flow of the river in Irak and Syria. These are areas which are in serious need of water. In Irak already, the water flow is reduced by 80%. You can imagine the impact it has on countries that are already at war. This makes the river a strategic thing to be in control of. The outcome of the war may come from whoever controls the waters.
So the story is about environmental issues on one hand and about conflict on the other.”

Men on a ferry boat travelling across the euphrates river near the Keban dam in eastern Anatolia. Keban, Turkey

What is it about this story that fascinates you?
“The story starts small and grows bigger and bigger. Hasankeyf is a small town and historically speaking a jewel. It’s ancient. And it’s at risk at being flooded. In Turkey, this is a well known issue. I wanted to see it for myself, so I went. I found that it’s really important to put attention to these stories, because I care about the future of this planet. I want to explain how relevant water is in such hot regions as Syria and Irak and what the consequences are when water gets cut off. Also, there are few places where water and war conflicts come together. Irak and Syria is one right now.”

Is there a meeting with one person that was most memorable for you?
“During my trips I’ve made a lot of friends. Arif from Hasankeyf for instance, is like a big brother to me. When I visit he takes care of me and helps me gain access to places. The people there help me because I get attention to the town and their story. It’s always a pleasure visiting the gorgeous place and the truly kind people. We sometimes sleep at the banks of the river and look at the beautiful stars.”

A tourist boat tour is visiting the former Savaçan Village flooded by the reservoir lake of the Birecik Dam on the Euphrates river in the late 90's. The town was among those settlements, ancient and contemporary, that would remain under the rising water levels of the local dams and rivers following the execution of the GAP project. Until the area was flooded in 1999, the people lived from fishing in the Euphrates and farming on the riverbank. Savaçan, Turkey

We all love to dream big. What would you like to achieve with your photos?
“To get the story to the right people and raise awareness. That’s big enough for me. This means getting photos published in the right magazine with influence. Or exhibit in an institution that makes sense. Or make a book that reaches beyond the regular photography audience. In a way you could say that I’m some sort of activist that tries to get the word out to the right people. And I’d like to do that over and over again with every story that I think is important to be heard or seen. Being part of Docking Station helps me to realize this by meeting people who can generate more awareness about the project. ”

Tell us, how do you think the Gold Rivers story will end?
“I don’t know if there’s an end to it. I hope there’s enough water for everybody in this region. I hope Turkey can be pressured to let some water go. I hope the conflict in Irak ends. I hope the stability returns. Yes, there’s a lot of hoping. But when you work there and have friends in a place that has so much conflict, you don’t create a story to exploit the misery of people. But you do it because you truly hope that things will change.”

Mathias has already left Volkshotel grounds, but every month a new docker calls the hub it’s home as part of Volkshotel’s annual Artist in Residence project. Check out to see what story is evolving under your nose this very moment.

Mathias Depardon
Gold Rivers

Docking Station
Marga Rotteveel & Anaïs López (founders)

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