For 5 years, Chloe Dewe Mathews has travelled across the countries bordering the Caspian Sea. She created a series on the impact of natural resources over these countries. The result is displayed in Caspian: The Elements, a book co-published by the Peabody Museum and the Aperture Foundation.

Photographer Chloe Dewe Mathews, 36, has travelled to the countries around the Caspian Sea: Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Russia and Iran. Natural resources have a very strong impact on the economies of these countries, but also on the daily lives and cultures of indigenous peoples. Armed with her medium-format Mamiya, Chloe captured the symbiosis between the landscape and the customs of the inhabitants. For instance, the link between Zoroastrianism (a monotheistic religion of ancient Iran) and fire, the therapeutic power of oil baths in Azerbaijan or even ice water baths in Russia. This results in a work that combines the material and the intangible. “Elements such as oil, gas, fire and water had a central impact on the cultural practices of indigenous inhabitants: they had a symbolic, religious and almost mystical charge. These elements were the common thread of my research,” the photographer explains.

A world between reality and mysticism

Chloe Dewe Mathews, who studied Fine Arts,  has developed a predilection for photography over the years. Self-taught, she found a style that straddles documentary, author photography and ethnographic study. “I was aware of the elements that shape and colour the lives of the people I was photographing,” she says. The border between the visible and the invisible is subtle: her photos reveal the history of one of the most coveted regions in the world. An immersion in a territory that has been treaded by the Persians, Mongols, Ottomans and Soviets, and that has been at the heart of geopolitical conflicts.

A powerful visual narratives is drawn up through the pages of Caspian: The Elements. The reader flies through the captivating landscapes and discovers a world between reality and mysticism, modernity and tradition. The photographs are highlighted by essays signed by art historian Morad Montazamiu, photojournalist Sean O’Hagan and writer and director Arnold van Bruggen. An illustrated panorama about a composite and enigmatic territory.

Caspian: The Elements, Co-published by Aperture and Peabody Museum Press, 65 $ – 216 p.


© Chloe Dewe Mathews