Baku ~ Azerbaijan
Rena Effendi Azerbaijan Rena Effendi (1977, Baku) is a singular young photographer whose work provides moving insight into human lives in zones of silence. She apprenticed herself to a photographer at a time when it was an unusual activity for a woman in Baku, and her earliest series – portraits of her neighbours displaced and disempowered by the money-laundering, oil-fuelled construction boom rapidly reducing the area to an urban nightmare of high-rise blocks and pollution – reveals her primary concern with individual experience and her ability to go beyond the surface. Two qualities in particular pervade Rena Effendi’s images: a deep sense of empathy, and a quiet celebration of the strength of the human spirit. Her series entitled Pipedreams: A Chronicle of Lives Along the Pipeline is the result of six years of work capturing the devastating social and environmental impact of the oil industry on people’s lives. In House of Happiness (the retained Soviet-era name of the local marriage registry), she portrays individual dilemmas in a community undergoing a revival of Islamic traditions including forced marriage and polygamy, within the wider globalising Central Asian context characterised by prostitution and heroin trafficking. Her portfolio conveys loss, injury and moments of despair in post-conflict Georgia; the dream of acceptance and the struggle to live in the marginalised conditions of Istanbul’s transgender community; and survival in extreme circumstances in Chernobyl: Still Life in the Zone, which offers striking portraits of the few remaining inhabitants, mostly elderly women who lived through Stalin’s famine, Nazi occupation and nuclear disaster, and continue with determination and ingenuity in the ‘Zone of Alienation’ and make it home. Rena Effendi is honoured for her remarkable portraits of individual lived experiences in zones of silence, for documenting the social impact of rampant, profit-driven ‘development’, for raising awareness of social realities in contexts that require developmental support, and for her eloquent testimony to human dignity and resilience.