Colorado – The Dying River


Whether they’re golf course managers in Las Vegas or fishermen on the Mexican border, they all depend on the water carried by the Colorado River, from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California. Photographer Jonas Kako spent more than six weeks documenting life along the course of the – meeting numerous protagonists, learning about agriculture in the desert and the water needs of large cities. Although his project is not yet complete, he already offers a complete vision of people’s consumption habits.

How did you get into photography?
My father used to subscribe to GEO magazine, and I always looked at reports from all over the world and dreamed of one day traveling the planet as a photographer. I bought my first camera with my confirmation money and started taking landscape pictures. After finishing school, I traveled across India for three months, trying reportage photography for the first time. I used those photos to apply to study photojournalism with Rolf Nobel in Hannover, and was lucky to get accepted.

How did you come to start this complete project? Is there a reason you chose, specifically, the Colorado River?
I have been dealing photographically with the climate crisis for a long time. It began in 2018 with a report on an island threatened by rising sea levels: the Isle of Jean Charles, off the coast of Louisiana. The residents are the first official climate refugees in the US, and the government is gradually relocating them. I found it fascinating that some of the islanders deny climate change, despite the fact that it threatens them so directly. While doing research for a new project, I came across the Colorado River situation and was surprised to read that it could completely dry up in the next few years. 40 million people depend on its waters, so you’d think everything possible would be done to prevent it from drying up.

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How did you prepare?
The planning began with many hours of research on the computer. I came across the subject, by chance, in The New York Times; there were no articles about it in Europe at that time. In the USA the matter is well known; so there were many reports that helped me find places I wanted to visit, where I could do more research. I made a list of people, things, and places that could be thematically connected and that referred to issues along the Colorado. I really wanted to talk to the ranchers; see Lake Mead; and visiting the Cucapá indigenous people in northern Mexico, who can hardly fish anymore.

Where did the journey begin and where did it end?
After two trips, I have traveled the length of the river twice, from its source in the snow-capped Rocky Mountains to the ancient delta in Mexico. It meant countless miles across deserts devoid of people, through the Rocky Mountains and along the coast of San Felipe. Sometimes I had a specific goal for the day, but often I was guided by the scenery. Then, in the evenings, I would look for a place from where I could photograph the sunrise the next morning.

What was it like working with the Leica SL2?
Working with the SL2 was very intuitive.What impressed mewas the intensity of the colors captured by the camera. That was particularly good for landscape photography.

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How did you find your numerous protagonists along the course of the river? What impression did they give you?
I previously contacted some of the protagonists, as in the case of Brian Domonkos, for example. He is the Colorado snow survey supervisor and he took me when he went to investigate the amount of snow in the Rocky Mountains. They have been measuring it every year for almost 50 years, and it shows a clearly decreasing trend. It is one of the main reasons the Colorado River is declining.
Great luck and the warmth and frankness of the people were responsible for my meeting other protagonists. For example, I learned that on the Navajo Reservation there are many homes without running water; and that, due to the drought, water has to be trucked in, also for their sheep and cows. I asked the cashier at a local supermarket for contacts and she directed me to Leonard. That very afternoon he was sitting in a traditional Navajo sweat lodge!

What moved you the most? What will you remember for sure?
My time with the Cucapá, in northern Mexico, was the most intense moment of the trip. They made me feel incredibly welcome. They let me go fishing with Antonia and Leticia, and their stories of the days when the Colorado was still flowing were very impressive. For the Cucapá (which means “people of the river”), the river is not just a recreational area, as it is for many Americans, but a fundamental part of their culture and livelihood. Without the river and without a stable income through fishing, many of the young people are moving away. This means that the culture of this town is slowly dying, along with the river.

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Is there still any hope for the region? What could be done to end the situation?
I think there is still hope. Many small efforts are being made to save the river. Even Las Vegas is now taking steps to preserve water; in general, a large amount of water is recycled and returned to the river. However, the problem is often only discussed as stemming from drought and not climate change. Many people see it only as a local problem, and have the impression that better times will return, without having to change anything. Desiccation, however, is a consequence of the climate crisis and can only be solved globally. It is up to all of us if we want to solve it.

Born in 1992,Jonas KakoHe studied photojournalism and documentary photography at the Hannover University of Applied Sciences and Arts. For some years now, his photographic work has dealt with the climate crisis and its impact on people and nature. He has been working as a freelance photographer for Weser-Kurier in Bremen since 2017. His stories have appeared in Volkskrant, Stern and National Geographic, among others. He finds out more about the photograph of him in hiswebsiteandInstagram Page.

A complete portfolio is included in theLFI Magazine 7/2022.

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PostingColorado – The Dying Riverfirst appeared inThe blog of the caLeica mara.

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